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American Arab launches bid for Michigan governor
Michigan-born Egyptian American doctor and health care activist Abdul El-Sayed has announced his decision to throw his hat into the ring to run for Governor of the State of Michigan in the 2018 general election. El-Sayed will have to win the Democratic Party nomination before running for the office in the Nov. 6, 2018 general elections.
By Ray Hanania
It’s not easy to run for public office as an Arab American. Many have tried only to be shot down by the underlying racism in American society and an increasingly active environment of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim feelings fed by political fear-mongering and by terrorism in the Arab and Muslim Worlds.
But the odds of winning election improve if you happen to live in Michigan, a state which has a vibrant Arab community that is active not only in government and politics, but in social service and public service and leadership.
That’s why I am intrigued by the announcement recently by an Egyptian American doctor, Abdul El-Sayed who has announced his decision to run for governor of the State of Michigan. El-Sayed is the former health director for the city of Detroit, appointed by Detroit’s Mayor Mike Duggan.
Given the surprise win of reality TV businessman Donald Trump, a non-politician outsider who went from celebrity to President in less than 18 months, a candidate like El-Sayed can win if he can build a broad coalition that goes beyond his Middle Eastern heritage.
El-Sayed joins a race that is expected to attract a large number of candidates who will compete for the Democratic Primary which will be held probably in the Spring of 2018 — an official primary date has not been set yet by the state. So far only one other candidate has declared their nomination in the Democratic primary, Gretchen Whitmer, former Ingham County Prosecuting Attorney and former Minority Leader of the Michigan Senate.
If El-Sayed wins, he would become America’s first Muslim Governor but the 4th American Arab governor. Yes, there have been three other Arab Americans who have been elected governors. They are Victor G. Atiyeh, Governor of Oregon (R) (1979–1987); John Baldacci, Governor of Maine (D) (2003–2011) (Lebanese mother); and, John H. Sununu, Governor of New Hampshire (R) (1983–1989) and Chief of Staff to George H.W. Bush (Lebanese and Palestinian ancestry)
Michigan has term limits and the current governor, Republican Rick Snyder, can’t run for a third term. Although the governor is a Republican, the state traditionally votes heavily Democratic in presidential elections, except in the November 2016 presidential election flipping with a slight margin to support Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Clinton had believed she had Michigan sewn up politically but was surprised when Trump took the state and its Electoral Votes.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face-off with the winner of the Republican primary (also not set) in the national general election on November 6, 2018.
Trump’s surprise win demonstrates how volatile elections in America can be and why every candidate with community support, sizable campaign funds and a grassroots organization can win.
Much of the Michigan media, which has been very racist in their negative coverage of Arabs and Arab Muslims — Americans tend to be less hateful on non-Arab Muslims because of the inherent bias that exists in this country on the issue of Israel and because of the influence of pro-Israel extremists who rampage their politics throughout this country’s news media and political institutions.
But El-Sayed isn’t speaking about Israel or the Palestine-Israel conflict and is focused on broader issues that impact everyone, from Arabs and Muslims to Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Christians and other European ethnic groups that dominate the state. He is addressing the issue of immigration, healthcare, education, crime, and services to senior citizens, the disabled and youth.
Here is El-Sayed’s official biography:
Abdul El-Sayed was born and raised in Michigan. His family reflects the diversity of our state, including immigrants who left Egypt in pursuit of greater opportunity in America, and farmers, teachers, and small-business owners who have lived in Gratiot County, Michigan for generations. Abdul is a product of Michigan public schools. He captained his high-school football, wrestling, and lacrosse teams, and went on to play lacrosse for the University of Michigan. He graduated in 2007, where he was honored to deliver the student commencement speech alongside President Bill Clinton.
Abdul went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, earning a doctorate from Oxford University and a medical degree from Columbia University. As a public health professor, Abdul became an internationally recognized expert in health policy and health inequalities.
At 30, Abdul became the youngest health official of a major American city when he was brought home by Mayor Mike Duggan to rebuild Detroit’s Health Department after it was privatized during the city’s bankruptcy. As Health Director, he was responsible for the health and safety of over 670,000 Detroiters, working tirelessly to ensure government accountability and transparency, promote health, and reduce cross-generational poverty.
After witnessing the systematic failures of government only a few miles away in Flint, Abdul worked hard to ensure that children attending Detroit schools and daycares were drinking lead-free water. He has also served expectant mothers and women by creating programs aimed at reducing infant mortality and unplanned pregnancy. He built a program to give schoolchildren across the city glasses if they needed them. Abdul also stood up for children with asthma by taking on corporations that wanted to pump more harmful pollutants into our air, working with them to reduce emissions and invest in parks.
Though the work continues, under Abdul’s leadership, the Detroit Health Department has become a state and national leader in public health innovation and environmental justice, in one of the fastest municipal public health turnarounds in American history.
Abdul is called to public service by a core belief in people. He believes that all people can thrive when we value each other and our communities, we seek to protect and defend our vulnerable, and when we create the kinds of opportunities that empower people to dream for a better future.
Abdul lives in Detroit with his wife, Sarah, a mental health doctor. He loves water sports, working out, good biographies, coffee, and Michigan sports.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906