By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — All but one of the Dearborn City Council candidates tackled questions during a League of Women Voters/Dearborn-Dearborn Heights forum June 21.
On June 21, four incumbents — Robert Abraham, Susan Dabaja, Brian O’Donnell and Michael Sareini — along with Ziad Abdulmalik, substitute teacher Nada Al-Hanooti, ICU nurse Fayrouz Bazzi, Lead of the Democratic Engagement and America Reads at the University of Michigan Erin Byrnes, registered nurse Sharon Dulmage, business owner Regan Ford, non-profit director Sean Green, business consultant Rifaat Hacham, Wayne County Sheriff Reserves Electrical Engineer and Commander Ramez Haidar, Dearborn Public Schools Communications Specialist Leslie Herrick and retired Dearborn Police Command Officer Kenneth Paris answered questions.
Councilman David Bazzy was the only one of the 16 candidates who did not appear at the Dearborn Administrative Center, because of the passing of his mother the day before.
Each candidate made an opening statement, closing statement and answered multiple questions. A total of 10 questions were asked to the candidates in groups.
When asked about what they would do to clean up the “slum landlord” housing and out-of-state homeowners who are not maintaining their properties, Dabaja emphasized enforcement.
“We have to hold people accountable, so enforcement is key because we already have a program in place for renters in the city,” she said.
Addressing a question on what lessons Dearborn should learn from former Mayor Orville Hubbard’s history and what should be done to his statue, Ford said Hubbard’s history is not or what will be Dearborn’s identity and the focus shouldn’t be on the past because there are other issues to worry about.
Haidar agreed, saying the city should focus on its diversity and future to keep the progress being made moving forward. He said the statue should be placed in the Dearborn Historical Museum with the proper information to learn from Hubbard.
O’Donnell and Paris addressed a question which asked them to define transparency for members of the council.
As an incumbent, O’Donell said they are already transparent by making all information available to the public online and making themselves available to residents through the council office.
Paris suggested to make the city’s website easier to navigate and find information especially via quick links because not everyone has the skills to search for what they need.
Asked how candidates view the current status of the police in the community.
Al-Hanooti brought up the progress the city made from 2014 when it was named a dangerous city to last year when it was named one of the safest cities in the state. “We have to maintain the progress we’ve made over the last few years and continue to work together,” she said.
Bazzi said she wants to see stricter rules for public safety and see more outreach with teenagers or youth so seniors have a safe environment in which to live.
Candidates were then asked to answer how they would help everyone in Dearborn and not just interest groups as a council member.
Green said he would give everyone in the city a voice and represent them equally as one race — the human race — which he was taught by his parents.
Hachem said, “I will take the city as a whole, so there needs to be impact on topics from all areas concerning residents.”
Herrick said it’s important to be available to answer residents’ questions and for a council member to attend as many community meetings to get to know residents on a personal level.
Sareini, Abraham and Abdulmalik responded to the drug epidemic that has engulfed the youth and what they plan to do to address it.
“I get calls from parents all the time, and as a council we need to establish our role in this,” Sareini said. “Partnerships with schools should be in place as early as possible because it’s not going away. We need to do our part by getting in front of it and providing resources and supporting anyway we can.”
In agreement with Sareini, Abraham said the council and other elected officials should help address the drug issue with education and providing programs or activities for youth to participate in as a way to avoid drugs.
Abdulmalik said education and police enforcement with maximum punishment combined can work together to address the issue.
“We need to start at the top by reaching out and take licenses from the pharmacists and doctors who are giving these medications,” Abdulmalik said.
The final question asked if residents would support a merger with Dearborn Heights and all 15 candidates answered they would not.
The closing statements gave the opportunity for candidates to give final thoughts. Byrnes and Dulmage said they want to create a better future for residents.
“I want a bright future for everyone from residents to business owners and everyone in between with healthy initiatives, first responder training and a good quality of life,” Byrnes said.
Dulmage listed public service, community unity, better services and drug prevention programs for residents as important topics.
“I understand how to work with a group of people,” she said. “Improvements can be made in the city, including televising the committee of the whole meetings and council discussions before meetings, for example.”
Fourteen candidates will advance to the general election, vying for the seven seats.
The primary election will be Aug. 8 with the general election Nov. 7.
For more information on the election or candidates go to www.lwvddh.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)