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Crowded list of mayoral candidates could move Dearborn towards a historic first

Beenish Ahmed
Michigan Radio

The Dearborn primary ballot is unusually crowded this year, with seven candidates vying to be the city’s next mayor. 

Mayors in Dearborn have historically been long-tenured; the city has had just seven since 1929. The current Mayor, John O'Reilly Jr, announced that he would not seek re-election earlier this year. 

"This is the first time we really have a highly competitive race since 1985. So in my lifetime, I was born after that,” said Abed Mozip, a Dearborn School Board member. “This means that we will have new mayor, new leadership,” which, he said, he hopes will address “inequities” in the city around recent flooding, as well tax policy and city finances. 

Dearborn primary voters will be casting a ballot for one of seven mayoral candidates. The two who get the most votes will be on the ballot for the general election in November.

The primary election could inch the city closer to a historic first with the city’s first woman mayor or the first mayor of Arab descent. 

Three of seven candidates vying for the city's top job have roots in the Middle East, and while having that sort of representation would be huge for some in the city where nearly half of all residents are Arab-American, for others like Sami Khaldi, ethnic identity doesn’t hold major sway.  

"It's one city, one community, and talking to a lot of citizens, they really care about the candidate, what the candidate is going to do to them rather than where they're from,” said Khaldi, who has been President of the Dearborn Democratic Club since 2013. 

Credit Beenish Ahmed / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Sami Khaldi has been President of the Dearborn Democratic Club since 2013.

“I don't think the race or the national origin is going to be a big factor here,” he added, noting at a picnic hosted by the Club on Wednesday that he hadn’t yet decided which candidate would get his vote. 

Sue McIlhiny, a retired city employee, said the recent flooding will be top of mind when she casts her ballot. 

“That can definitely be addressed,” McIlhiny said. “There's no reason for it not to be. It just is going to take a good leader to get down to business and resolve that.” 

She wouldn’t say, however, who she thought the best candidate for the job would be.

Dearborn's mayoral primary is non-partisan. The two candidates who receive the most votes will face off in November’s general election.

Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Public's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.