John B. O’Reilly, Jr. has been the mayor of Dearborn since 2007.
He has the privilege and challenge of leading a city with a diverse population, which includes a high percentage of Muslims. Though Dearborn has been the subject of criticism and scrutiny from those looking in from the outside, with some groups accusing the city of being the home to Sharia law in America, Mayor O’Reilly sees it differently. Before taking office, O’Reilly served as president of the Dearborn City Council for 17 years. His father, John B. O’Reilly, Sr., served as police chief and mayor of Dearborn. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mayor O’Reilly continues a family legacy in public office.
The Yemeni American News – by Stephen Coats and Rasheed AlNozili
YAN: What is your position on President Trump’s recent Executive Order (titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”) and how will it affect Dearborn?
O’Reilly: It’s been overturned, so they’re going to have to modify it. It appears their intent is to come back with something that is not as over-reaching as what they did, but I think anything [President Trump] is doing is really wrong. He’s trying to say that a whole class of people, people from one country, are all dangerous and that’s simply not true. We know it’s not true. There is no evidence that supports that. That’s not what our country is about, so I think the pushback is important. We all have to stay united, to say this is not America, this is not what the constitution is looking for.
YAN: How come Dearborn does not have an indoor soccer field like other cities around us?
O’Reilly: We are working on getting to a point where we can have soccer here and I’ve been asking the City Council to support that. Most of the soccer facilities, indoor soccer fields, are privately owned. However, we worked with a group that was in Dearborn that wanted to do a soccer field here. We actually negotiated for more than two years, so we spent a lot of time [talking] with Ford Motor Company on property they own, trying to get the deal put together. At the end of the day, Ford and the private investment group from Dearborn we were working with just couldn’t match on the pricing. I went to the City Council and started talking about how maybe we should add onto the Performing Arts Center and put in two indoor soccer facilities, and I still think that may be viable. At this point, the City Council feels that there isn’t enough activity that would be generated to make that financially viable, so that’s where we are at.”
When I became mayor, we went into a recession. We had to look at everything we were doing and how we could continue to do it. At that time we were subsidizing the ice skating facility, we were subsidizing the Center, we were subsidizing the golf course. We were subsidizing a lot of things. We got to a point where we don’t subsidize them. They are all operating on their own steam, they raise enough revenue and so on. I believe that we can do that with soccer too. I got to be able to prove it to some others.”
YAN: What are the greatest challenges facing the city of Dearborn today?
O’Reilly: What’s challenging today is to put together the most important things we do here that are going to make the city successful 25 years from now. We are at a point where the economy is good for us and we are managing. We have the money now to invest. The key is what investments are going to have the biggest impact on the community, and this is what I call a 25-year plan. For example, in east Dearborn we had homes that were built for factory workers in the 1920s and they are stick-built, two-story homes built on 30-foot lots. They don’t have driveways, you can’t add onto them. Young families are going to say, “I can’t live there. I need to have a driveway, I want a family room, I want to add on.” We changed the policy and said that we would buy any house that had a footprint that was under 40 feet wide when it was on the market, tear it down, and sell that to the neighboring properties to have larger lots. The point is that it’s now a place that they can have the lifestyle they want. That’s why I call it the 25-year plan: we have to do it now even though it’s not going to show until later. Most cities don’t have long term plans, they go year by year and they are going to fail. You have to have a vision and you have to know what is your end point, where are you going and how do you get there?
YAN: With the new Ford project on the west side, how will it affect other parts of the city?
O’Reilly: They will get a lot because this project is so large, and they are going to be brining in about four thousand new employees that aren’t here now, so that creates a bigger customer base. It means there are more people that you can try and get to serve and have them do business with you. The other thing is, it generates more revenue for us to invest.
YAN: What do you tell people who think there is Sharia Law in Dearborn?
O’Reilly: we have three topless bars, we have a major business in Dearborn that does nothing but produce pork products for all over the region. how can you say there’s Sharia Law?.This is a real city and it’s a city that has everybody in it. we all get along and we do well and it’s true. culturally, we are so diverse. All of those things are just crafted by people who have a different agenda. They are haters, they are people who are disruptive, and they’ve developed some false idea that they are threatened by people who are coming from overseas. You know we’ve lived very comfortably and very safely. We’re actually the best example of completely embracing anyone who wants to come here and we’ve been so successful because we do it. This is a successful city. We have vibrant activity. We’ve got good investment. You know we’re on solid ground and we’re and example of a place that said, “Everybody’s welcome!” And they come they participate and it’s a great community