Arab-American candidate faces tough campaign in Dearborn


Associated Press

Mayor Michael Guido is being challenged by Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Abed Hammoud. Hammoud is spending thousands of dollars on a flier denouncing the attacks and saying not every Arab is a terrorist.


By Alexandra R. Moses / Associated Press
Saturday, October 6, 2001

DEARBORN -- Before Sept. 11, mayoral candidate and Lebanese immigrant Abed Hammoud didn't want to make ethnicity an issue in the race, focusing instead on good schools and safe neighborhoods. 

But in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Hammoud is spending thousands of dollars on a flier denouncing the attacks and saying not every Arab is a terrorist. 

"Yes, I came here as an immigrant. But my entire family is here. I have no mysterious connections to any place overseas, other than wanting peace and justice for people everywhere," reads the flier, which has an American flag and Hammoud's photo juxtaposed on the front. It was being mailed to voters Friday. 

Dearborn, bordering Detroit's west side, was once seen by some as synonymous with bigotry. Former mayor Orville Hubbard, an advocate of black-white segregation who held office from 1942 to 1977, put the slogan "Be Nice to People" on police cars while vowing to keep blacks from living in the city. 

Today, the city of 97,775 is about 87 percent white; the Census did not offer a separate category for Arab-Americans, but demographers estimate about 20,000 residents are Arab-American, following an influx of people to the area during the civil war in Lebanon. 

Hammoud says he doesn't know if the attacks will affect his chances at becoming Dearborn's next mayor. The day of the nonpartisan primary -- held on Sept. 11 -- he says no one insulted him because he is Arab. But some of his poll workers were told "not today, not anymore, not an Arab,"' when they approached voters, he says. 

Supporter Osama Siblani says he believes Hammoud lost votes that day because of the attacks. When word came down, "things looked very, very dim," he says. 

The purpose of the new flier is to "eliminate any questions that might be in the back of the minds of some people," says Siblani, who also is the publisher of the Arab-American News. 

Hammoud already faced a tough battle against incumbent Michael Guido. In the primary, which whittled the field from four candidates to two, Guido grabbed about 60 percent of the votes to Hammoud's 18 percent. Hammoud topped the third-place finisher, former Police Chief Ron Deziel, by just 1 percent. Guido and Hammoud now face off Nov. 6. 

Guido's been mayor for 16 years, and in 1993, he ran unopposed for the office. In 1997, he won with 87 percent of the vote. 

To 64-year-old Mario Del Pizzo, there's no question who has his vote. 

"Mayor Guido, of course, he's my blood," says Del Pizzo, smoking a large cigar and laying brick outside a local bar. 

"He takes care of the city," he says. "I don't think any other person could do a better job. You cannot improve anything. Everything under control." 

Del Pizzo and others here say it doesn't matter what ethnicity Hammoud is -- Guido has made the city safe, clean and prosperous and it's not time for a change. 

"The outcome of the mayor's race in Dearborn was never in question," says Nasser Beydoun, director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. "Dearborn doesn't elect a mayor, it enthrones a king." 

Indeed, the city has had only five mayors since 1929. 

For Edward Assi, a Lebanese-American who supports Guido, the choice is simple: "The person you know better than the person you don't know." 

Guido, 47, grew up in Dearborn, went to Dearborn public schools and nearby Wayne State University. Many voters say if Hammoud had that kind of residential resume, they might consider him. 

Hammoud, 35, is an assistant Wayne County prosecutor and has lived in Dearborn for 11 years. He moved here in 1990 not long after earning undergraduate and master's degrees in France. He earned his law degree from Wayne State and has tallied a long list of community involvement. 

Hammoud has received some hate mail -- a few messages that include torn-up campaign fliers -- in his quest to become mayor. But none since the attacks. 

Guido says he doesn't see the attacks having an impact on Election Day. 

"I don't think my opponent should be penalized or rewarded by being Arab-American," Guido says. "This race should be about who will be the best mayor of Dearborn." 

Mark Guerrieri, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, says "it would be difficult to overcome the Guido political machine," regardless of recent events. 

Voter Alice Rakowski says the city has always been a melting pot of nationalities and that ethnicity and race never mattered. She speaks fondly of former mayor Hubbard and says the city has changed a lot since then. 

But Rakowski says she isn't voting for Hammoud simply because "I don't know anything about him." 

For Hammoud's part, he says he hopes his ethnicity isn't an issue. 

"I hope everyone now realizes that a whole ethnic group cannot be held accountable for the actions of a few criminals," his flier says. "I am proud of my cultural heritage, but I am prouder of my American citizenship." 

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