Posted by Joan Hanna on November 08, 2017 in Blog

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Over the past year, we have seen an increase in hate and bigotry towards Arab Americans and American Muslims. Despite the rhetoric and heightened xenophobia, 26 Arab Americans chose to seek public office in the hopes of making a difference in their communities. They spanned the country from California to Massachusetts and Georgia, running for everything from Clerk to State House. Here, we highlight the candidates who ran for office in 2017.

There were 21 Arab Americans who made it to the general election on November 7. Bassem Fakhoury, an engineer, ran and won a seat on the Roswell City Council in Georgia. Fakhoury spoke about his win on Facebook: “It has been an exhilarating ride and a great opportunity to meet wonderful people and learn about the election process first-hand…I hope that our community will carry the momentum forward by finding more ways to be engaged in their greater city and county affairs.” Mazahir Salih, who ran for Iowa City Council, had an impressive showing at the polls. She secured 77% of the vote and won her At-Large seat. Following her win, she said “I represent everybody in Iowa City, regardless if you moved halfway around the globe to come here like me or you were born here. I represent everybody in Iowa City.” Michigan’s Dearborn community reelected long time Councilors Robert Abraham, David Bazzy and Mike Sareini, while Susan Dabaja was elected as the City Council President again. Bazzy was interviewed by Patch.com in August and talked about why he wanted to serve. “The council has been more productive and it is because of the ability of our ‘let’s put the city first’ agenda, that I wish to continue, not the ‘what's my career path’ agenda.” Sareini took to Facebook to thank his supporters, stating “I am looking forward to working together towards our future successes and keeping Dearborn a great place to live and raise our families.” Before she won reelection, Dabaja posted on Facebook that “It has been an honor to serve [the Dearborn community] and I hope that I can continue being your voice and your advocate.” In the race for Dearborn City Clerk, George Darany won handily. Dearborn Heights will have a new City Councilor, Bill Bazzi, a Marine Corps veteran and engineer. He was appreciative of the outpouring of support on election night, writing on Facebook: “I am moved by your passion and commitment in this collective effort. I am honored and look forward to serving the residents of Dearborn Heights, as one of your newly elected City Council members.”

Minnesota saw two candidates of Somali heritage win local races. Fartun Ahmed, the first in her family to graduate from high school and complete college, as well as the first to earn a graduate degree, won a seat on the Hopkins School Board. On Election Day, she took to Facebook explaining why she was right for the job. “Our children and families deserve leaders who are willing to work really hard and represent them everyday.” State Rep. Ilhan Omar’s brother, Abdikadir Hassan, a young community activist, secured the Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner’s spot as well. Just north of New York City, Mike Khader, an attorney and former CIA official, pulled through and won the Yonkers City Council President position, upsetting the incumbent. The day after the election, Khader wrote on Facebook that he was overwhelmed with support from his community. “I am encouraged and humbled by this victory and the trust placed in me by the people of Yonkers. Thank You to my wife Rana, my kids, my family and all my wonderful volunteers. To the people of Yonkers, I will not let you down.” Iraqi Refugee and Ohio resident Mohamed Al-Hamdani, who works for a healthcare non-profit, won a seat on the Board of Education in Dayton. Sam Rasoul ran uncontested for his reelection as Delegate in Virginia’s 11th district. He spent Election Day encouraging Virginians to vote, regardless of political party, and even walked with one constituent as he made the 5.4-mile trek to his polling station. Rasoul was inspired by the constituent’s commitment to exercise his civic duty. First time candidate Hala Ayala beat a 4-term incumbent in the 51st district. Ayala released a statement after her win, “I built my campaign on the promise of fair and equal representation of our community, in all of its wonderful diversity. I intend to make sure Richmond hears our local voices, especially as we fight to improve our schools, work toward long-term solutions to reduce traffic congestion and ensure affordable health care to those in need.” She overcame many odds, including a racist flier campaign, but finished with a six point advantage.

Running strong and respectable races, five first-time candidates made their mark even though they didn’t win. In Michigan, community activist Nada Al-Hanooti, engineer, Ramez Haidar, and Fayrouz Bazzi, a businesswoman and nurse, all lost their bids for Dearborn City Council. Real estate agent Nofila Haidar, fell short for Dearborn City Clerk. And in Dearborn Heights, Mo Baydoun and Jeff Mallad, narrowly lost positions on the City Council. In Ohio, Nadeen Hayden, an attorney, lost her bid for Cleveland Heights Municipal Court Judge. There were also a few Arab Americans who ran in the primaries. Matthew Giaba, a businessman, ran for Los Angeles Mayor, but lost in March. Dr. Hazem Mahmoud stepped up to run for Newburyport Mayor’s in Massachusetts. He lost the primary in September and the general election as a write-in candidate. Dearborn businessman Hakim Fakhoury lost his primary City Council race in August. In a crowded race for New York City Council, Pastor Khader El-Yateem only lost by eight points in September. Hannah Risheq, a 25-year-old healthcare consultant, competed in her first race for Virginia Delegate.

Whether these candidates won or lost their races, they all stepped forward to embrace public service in the best tradition of our nation. They raised our community’s profile and served as examples for young Arab Americans everywhere who may choose to follow. Running for office, volunteering on campaigns and voting ensures our community has a seat at the table. As we prepare for 2018, there are already several Arab Americans running for local, state and national positions.