By Brian Stone
While the recent election may have been a referendum on Donald Trump, in local politics, the recent school board race served as a referendum on the racial division in Dearborn politics.
Let’s just be honest and say it outright: Dearborn has a racial voting issue. Whites vote for whites. Lebanese folks vote for the Lebanese. Yemenis vote for Yemenis. Are there many exceptions? Absolutely. But in Dearborn, we have a tendency to vote for those who look and talk like us, except when community leaders stand up and say otherwise. This isn’t a matter of opinion, either – just look at the precinct-by-precinct election results.
This creates unique problems in our political culture, because who wins elections is often dependent on which racial groups show up in the largest number, and not on which candidates make the best argument. This became apparent in the recent school board race.
Between Cindy Parrelly and Aman Fidama, both sent the exact same mailer with both of their faces on it to absentee voters. There was a massive gap between how many absentee votes they got, though, with Aman receiving the least. It’s well-known that absentee voters in Dearborn tend to be older and whiter than the general electorate.
The top candidates, though, received a strong number of votes from all sides of town. Winning candidates Roxanne McDonald and Jim Thorpe received a strong share of votes in the East End, and Adel Mozip, who came in third place thousands of votes ahead of the other candidates, received the most West Dearborn votes of any Arab American candidate.
This speaks to their ability to build coalitions, to develop friendships across racial borders, and their ability to listen to people who are different from themselves. However, if this were a “vote for only one” race, the racial division would have been even more stark, and it becomes more difficult to convince people to vote outside of their racial group.
I am proud I got to support both Adel Mozip and Roxanne McDonald during this election. I’m definitely biased – I ran a robocall to my supporters for him, I connected him with donors and volunteers, and I gave him my enthusiastic support. Even then, I know that what I did wasn’t enough and I wish I could have done more.
My hope, in the coming months, is that Dearborn’s bridge-builders can come together and start working on common causes, especially when it comes to reaching across racial and geographic lines in our city. The people who benefit from a racially divided electorate are not sincere, young candidates like Adel Mozip.
Millennial leaders like Adel and I are stuck in a frustrating political system that looks at our name and pocket book more than what we have to offer in terms of our genuine service. This benefits only the most cynical power players in our city.
We have to change. In one election, Arab turnout may be high, while in another, white turnout may be higher – do we really want who gets elected based on such things? Or do we want to have an electorate that chooses the best candidates, regardless of who shows up?
While we might not be able to convince everyday people that racial voting is against their best interests, if enough community leaders gather together in opposition to this trend, we may, each, be able to change our respective communities through our individual voices.
While Adel may have lost his race, my hope is that we can learn lessons from this election and start moving towards a more fair-minded city. We need more bridge-builders in Dearborn, and there is no time to waste.