Election 2017: Candidates talk about issues facing the city

By Charles Sercombe
On Aug. 8 Hamtramck voters will be going to the polls to vote for candidates for mayor and city council.
This is the primary election, and the candidates who survive that first round will square off in the November General Election.
The Review mailed each candidate a survey of questions about some of the issues facing the city.
In the coming weeks The Review will present their responses, in their own words. The Review asked for candidates to respond by June 30, but as of this Friday several of the candidates have not returned the survey.
This week, we present Mayor Karen Majewski, who is seeking a fourth term, and council candidate Fadel Al-Marsoumi.

hamtramck review
NAME: Karen Majewski
Education: Ph.D., University of Michigan 1998, American Culture with focus on immigration and ethnicity
Emploment: Business owner
Experience in government/municipal affairs:
I have been mayor of Hamtramck since 2006. Previously, I served as City Council President and Mayor Pro Tem, 2004-2005. Before that, I was an appointed member of the Hamtramck Historical Commission.
I served on the board of the Michigan Municipal League 2007-2011, and as the League President in 2011-2012. I have been a member of the board of the Detroit Metropolitan Alliance, formerly the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, since 2008.
As a challenger or incumbent, explain why you are running for office:
Whether in elected office, as a volunteer, or as an active resident, I have been involved in Hamtramck’s civic life for as long as I have lived here (and even before).
As someone who fell in love with Hamtramck at first sight, I feel an obligation to do what I can to help make this city the kind of place its residents deserve: to champion its interests, to develop its many assets, and to encourage and facilitate its progress. In the time I’ve served in elected office, we’ve faced many challenges, but we’ve also made valuable progress.
I’m determined to see that progress continue, with an emphasis on moving forward on our much-needed infrastructure, on following through with the suggestions in our master plan that emphasize our traditional urban neighborhood flavor, and to continue to represent Hamtramck as a model of the American ideal in which people from all over the world work together to create community. I see what makes this city great, I want to help others see it, and I want to make sure that those qualities aren’t lost or diminished, but fostered and encouraged.
What are the city’s top three challenges, as you see it?
Finances, of course, have always been our first and foremost challenge, throughout our history, and that especially shows in our crumbling and inadequate infrastructure that needs immediate and continuing attention.
Although we’ve always been an immigrant city that welcomed people from all over the world and all over the U.S., we now also face an increasingly diverse population, presenting challenges over language, culture, and community identity.
And relatedly, we continue to face the challenge of encouraging economic development that enhances the quality of life and meets the needs of our residents.
How would you solve/meet these challenges?
These challenges are intertwined and interdependent. They also provide the clues to what I believe needs to be our strategy moving forward. We cannot cut our way to financial stability, though we always need to be rethinking our expenses and looking for ways to control them, whether by rebidding contracts, aggressively pursuing grants and other funding opportunities, and carefully considering what services should be done in house to save money, create local jobs, and provide better services.
But our real path to financial stability has to be one of growth. Our diversity, our history as a welcoming place for immigrants and migrants, should become one of our selling points for future investment, along with our population density, traditional urban downtown, and strong sense of identity that engages with people all over the state and beyond.
These are the qualities that will enable us to grow our local economy. However, without quality streets, sewers, and alleyways, as well as an attractive downtown and residential neighborhoods, we won’t be able to attract the investment—commercial, residential, and human—that will grow us out of financial instability.
So our strategy needs to braid these factors together, realizing that this is a long-term process that we are committed to as a city, and not dependent on shifting political tides.
The city is transitioning back to full local control. What will you do to facilitate this transition if elected?
More than anything, the city needs responsible and well-informed decision making, which I have tried to provide throughout my tenure. The state is looking for signs of this stability, professionalism, and maturity.
I will continue to educate myself on issues and procedures, to maintain good working relationships with other decision and policy makers, to represent the city in the public eye in a professional way, and to try to steer the city toward thoughtful leadership.
What will you do to prevent the city from falling into another financial crisis?
Addressing this historical problem requires the cooperation of council, the mayor, and our city manager. It also points to the importance of hiring a city manager who is creative, skilled, and pro-active.
We need to look closely at our existing contracts without regard to personal friendships or political loyalties. We need to aggressively pursue economic development and investment. Key to that is addressing the infrastructure and other issues in our neighborhoods and business districts to guarantee that our community is attractive to investment.
As I said earlier, we cannot cut our way out of financial distress. It will take a combination of financial responsibility and economic development in our business districts and our neighborhoods to bring us to stability over time.
Talk about the city’s budget. Do you think there should be some changes to where money is spent or changes to any department or service?
There are several areas in which I believe we should invest that will pay dividends to the city over time. One is, of course, economic development. The city has not had an economic development director in a long time, and we lost the very capable person we just hired when another opportunity came along.
We need to fill that position with someone who is energetic, credentialed, and who understands and is enthused about Hamtramck’s unique potential as an intact, densely populated, urban enclave. This is absolutely vital. This department is not the place to cut corners.
In order to attract and retain good employees, we also need to make sure that the benefits we pay are in keeping with professional standards. This is quite a challenge, because of skyrocketing health care costs.
But we need to keep exploring our options so that we aren’t bearing the cost of recruiting and training new employees, only to have them leave in short order for greener pastures. We need to invest in our aging infrastructure—streets, sewers, alleys. These should be part of long-term strategies and an ongoing plan that intersects with our Master Plan.
The city has had a problem in getting along with its city managers. What has been going wrong in this relationship, and how can the city avoid the constant change in management?
The field of professional city management is by its nature tied to the political winds of each municipality, which is one reason city managers—even very good ones—often change jobs frequently. In Hamtramck’s case, I think it’s been a combination of politics, performance, and individual fit for our unique community.
I don’t think it’s fair to include our acting city managers in the tally, because these were simply existing city employees who were appointed—reluctantly, I might add — to fill in temporarily to keep city hall running in the absence of a manager.
That said, I think our city council members need to take a close look at the charter and learn from elected officials in other communities. Historically, our council members have had a destructive tendency to try to appropriate the duties of the city manager and to manage departmental functions that are strictly outside their legal authority.
Over the years, some council members have openly courted, and even tried to create, controversy in city hall, which has been destructive to operations and morale. Until council members understand and accept their role as policy makers, not as managers and meddlers in day to day departmental and personnel matters—these problems will continue.
Unfortunately, it also compounds a reputation that may make attracting the cream of the candidate pool difficult moving forward. We need a city manager who is energized about the city — who is excited about our assets as an urban enclave with a traditional downtown; who understands and can maneuver within the regional, state, and national terrain in terms of funding and policy-making; who appreciates the need to balance investment in our assets — including human assets — and infrastructure — physical and cultural — with fiscal responsibility and cost reduction.
And we need someone who will fight for us, who always has Hamtramck’s back, and for whom this is not a 9-5 job. Those add up to a very particular skill set that is hard to find. When we do find it—as I believe we have in city manager Powell—council needs to recognize and support that manager, while maintaining its charter-mandated powers of oversight.
Talk about economic development. How can the city spur economic growth?
I think most of what I’ve said so far has touched on this. But once again, the perception that Hamtramck is unstable politically and in terms of its management is a powerful disincentive to potential outside investors.
City services, infrastructure, and appearance of our commercial and residential neighborhoods also have to strive to higher standards. On the other hand, we can see paths to economic growth all around us. Immigrants are investing in businesses that meet the needs of their own communities while also attracting customers from outside their ethnic base.
Other small, independent businesses are cropping up everywhere in the city, and creating a buzz across the region. Our housing market is very tight and values are rising.
All this is because people see Hamtramck as a city in which they can be part of a community, in which they can build a business and a good life in an affordable, walkable, diverse, and interesting place.
Those are the qualities that we need to build on to continue to attract the residents and businesses who will invest here not because they see it as an opportunity to exploit, but because they value and believe in Hamtramck.
How can the city encourage commercial property owners to fill their retail spaces?
This has been continuing problem over the years. I think we need a combination of carrot and stick, with careful and transparent code enforcement combined with clearly defined opportunities for flexibility when a property owner is acting in good faith.
However, tweaking our existing ordinances may be necessary to provide the city more leverage in handling uncooperative owners. Stronger consequences for leaving properties vacant are something we should carefully consider, using other cities that have successfully addressed this problem as models.
But we also need to find ways to help property owners feel a part of the community, so that they see the valued role they play in the city’s well being and are active participants in its vitality. That includes outreach by the city administration (another reason we so badly need an Economic Development Director) and organizations like the DDA.
For those of you seeking to become the mayor, what do you envision your role as, besides what is in the city charter?
I’ve thought about this role a lot over the years. The city charter defines the mayor’s actual duties quite narrowly. However, the title of mayor carries weight of its own, and it means that the mayor has leverage that transcends the charter dictates.
As official spokesperson for the city, the mayor has a responsibility to represent the city in public and with the media in a way that protects our reputation and brings us honor, without whitewashing any problems or issues.
This can be a fine line to walk. And it has increasingly become a part of my job over the years, as Hamtramck has attracted more and more national and international attention.
I now give many media interviews, and am also regularly asked to speak about Hamtramck at conferences. For instance, I recently was on a panel on immigration at a conference in Lansing; I will be in Gdansk, Poland, speaking at a conference on immigrant integration and then meeting with local mayors who are facing what is a relatively new issue for them — an influx of immigrants from other parts of Europe as well as of refugees, many of them Muslims; and in December I will be speaking about emergency management at a conference at Cornell University.
Relatedly, as mayor I have the opportunity to signal Hamtramck’s reaction to national events — for instance, on the night of the last presidential election, I reached out to our residents via Facebook to reassure them that the city is committed to their safety and will stand by them if they are threatened by new federal policies.
I was able to sign on with other mayors to upholding the principles of the Paris Accord on climate change. Actions like this are not required of the mayor, but I see them as part of my responsibility in positioning Hamtramck within a wider discourse on America’s future. It is part of the mayor’s job — as I see it — to make sure Hamtramck’s voice is included in the American conversation.
That also means building relationships with community organizations, other governing bodies, and any other groups with which Hamtramck’s presence at the table can help the city and its residents.
These duties are much more than public relations — they also can have concrete consequences, including bringing opportunity and resources to the city.
And certainly a large part of the mayor’s responsibility includes engaging with Hamtramck residents from across the spectrum, whether by supporting community events, meeting with constituents, trying to help with individual issues, or just being approachable and open.
Also for those running for mayor, what is your vision of the city, and how would you achieve your goals?
I think my previous answers make this pretty clear, but to summarize: Hamtramck is a unique city with assets that may have been undervalued in the past, but that situate us well for growth and viability: our diversity, walkability, affordability, sense of community identity. These are the assets that are highlighted in our Master Plan and that need to be emphasized and exploited for our continued growth.
They are assets that other cities are trying to create, but that we already possess. They are the essence of Hamtramck. At the same time, we face interconnected challenges that have also in some ways defined us: financial and political instability, aging and inadequate infrastructure, and shifting demographics that require adjustments to the municipal culture.
So it’s vital to recognize and nurture those assets that have shaped us historically and that provide a roadmap for further development — that is the vision in which Hamtramck continues to evolve without losing the essence of its identity.
We need to commit to making the financial and human investments that will enhance our ability to attract new residents and businesses, and we need to make sure that Hamtramck is at the table when decisions that effect our future are made.
These are not pie in the sky promises, but practical and achievable goals for steady, long-term, sustainable development. They are strategies that have worked for other cities, and that will work for Hamtramck.

Fadel Al-Marsoumi
NAME: Fadel Al-Marsoumi
Education: Master of Science in Information Technology Leadership/ Systems Management, Walsh College, Troy, MI (2017 – Expected Graduation June 2018); Master of Business Administration ,Walsh College Troy, MI (2014 – 2016); Bachelor of Arts in Communications – Major: Public Relations,
Wayne State University, Detroit, MI (2010-2014)

Employment: Technology Service Technician – Raymond James Financial (Southfield, MI); Technical Customer Advocate – Audi of America (Auburn Hills, MI)

Experience in government/municipal affairs:
Although I do not have much experience with government and municipal affairs, I’m a member of a few groups that work together to overcome many obstacles to achieve set goals. These groups include:
● Michigan Democratic Party
● Walsh College Master of Business Administration Association
● WSU PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America

As a challenger or incumbent, explain why you are running for office:
Many times, I’ve been asked to describe the city that I grew up in. Of all the ways I could describe Hamtramck, I feel the simplest is to say that it is a wonderful community that is diverse, but divided. Although we are a community that accepts one another, it’s a rare sight that we turn to each other for guidance. The error in this is that we limit the perspectives in which we see a problem, which in turn limits the possibility for finding a solution.
As a dynamic community that has been evolving rapidly in the past years, it’s important to address the issues that throttle our development. We must come together as a group of people looking to better the city that we call home. As a person who was raised in Hamtramck, I feel the need to give back to the city that gave me so much.
Bringing about change is difficult and at times it may be that only so much can be done. By knowing what needs to be addressed, we can set achievable goals and compromise when needed for the greater good of the community as a whole.

What are the city’s top three challenges, as you see it?
1. Not getting along with our city manager and council members not working together/neglecting one another.
2. Demographics, diversity and inclusiveness. We are a diverse city, but we seem to form barriers between one another. We should embrace our backgrounds and teach our fellow community members of our roots while simultaneously learning about theirs.
3. The city’s budget and economic development. We have been struggling with the city’s finances and are not seeking other means of generating annual revenue or cutting unnecessary costs.
How would you solve/meet these challenges?
1. I would design a plan of action that defines a clear purpose while shedding light on a common pain that we all are exposed to. I would hope to inspire togetherness by defining issues that affect us all. My goal would be to establish common ground and encourage working through our differences for the greater good.
2. I would seek to educate our community about the elements of culture while establishing events that allow all community members to partake in. I would try to provide a friendly environment for community members to voice their learnings about cultures, religions and ethnicities and to ask questions freely.
3. We must educate the community about the financial position that our city is in and inspire progress by allowing city members to contribute to a positive change. We need to seek out budget balancing strategies and pursue alternative service methods that save on our operational costs.
The city is transitioning back to full local control. What will you do to facilitate this transition if elected?
There has always been tension between local and state governments. A lack of problem articulation seems to cause misunderstandings. I will do my best to ensure that fellow council and community members focus on implications of the transition and work together to determine the most logical and rational solution to make for a smooth transition.
What will you do to prevent the city from falling into another financial crisis?
Whether we speak about the great depression of 1929 or the financial crisis of 2008, we see that steps could have been taken to prevent the situations that our country has been put in.
I would get together with the city manager, mayor and my fellow council members to create a realistic budget. City purchases should be prioritized while high-risk investments will be avoided.
I would encourage the city to invest in businesses and properties that generate an almost guaranteed return instead of taking gambles with the budget we have in place.
Talk about the city’s budget. Do you think there should be some changes to where money is spent or changes to any department or service?
When reviewing Hamtramck’s 2015 and 2016’s FY Budget Report we can see that our expenditures include salaries, social security, traffic services, winter maintenance, administration, engineering and non-motorized improvements.
Being that I haven’t served on the council, there is information that I don’t have access to that I would need to better craft a city-wide budget and spending strategy. In government, just like in business, there are costs that can be cut or postponed based on priority. I believe that with my knowledge of business fundamentals, global impact and efficient leadership I can help provide the understanding required to be more responsible with our budget.
The city has had a problem in getting along with its city managers. What has been going wrong in this relationship, and how can the city avoid the constant change in management?
The last few meetings that our city council has held demonstrates to us that political polarization truly does exist, even in a small city like Hamtramck. I believe the issue behind our opposition is a lack of transparency and honesty with one another.
Being indecisive has its downsides, but rushing decisions that affect our community long term causes even greater distress. To combat what is thought of as risky or hasty decision making, parties are established within council between members with similar views.
This is not ideal as a rift is created between the groups intended to steer this city in the right direction. This leads to the best interest of the city taking a back seat to personal views.
The city can avoid the constant change in management if the council members, mayor and city manager can learn to be transparent and support each other regardless of past behavior or differences as the success of the city depends heavily on their actions.
Talk about economic development. How can the city spur economic growth?
There are multiple ways to spur economic growth. Long term methods to spur economic growth include investing in safety, education and infrastructure. Hamtramck has what many cities in the United States lack, diversity.
This is a huge factor for many people when choosing a place to call home. Hamtramck has plenty to offer to families looking for a place to settle in. The issue is that Hamtramck is looked at as less safe when compared to suburban cities a few miles away.
As for the education system, although it has improved in recent years, it is still lagging behind others. Thirdly, Hamtramck is a city filled with homes and buildings nearing on a century old. It is for these reasons that many lifetime residents move out as soon as they land a higher paying job.
They can’t be blamed as they are only looking to provide the best opportunities for their families. If we can invest in these three areas, we can encourage individuals to move to and remain in Hamtramck. This will in turn encourage new businesses to invest in this city. A combination of new businesses and individuals with higher incomes would bring about further development of the city.
How can the city encourage commercial property owners to fill their retail spaces?
Although it may seem controversial, we should discuss the possibility of increasing taxes on retail spaces that have been vacant for longer than a set amount of time, say three years or so. If this is too extreme, we can instead provide tax incentives for commercial property owners that fill their spaces. These savings can be passed down to potential business investors so as to encourage development.

8 Responses to Election 2017: Candidates talk about issues facing the city

  1. Nayeem Leon Choudhury

    July 8, 2017 at 2:00 am

    Hello, I did responded Hamtramck review questions via email and you replied back.. did you post mine on the news paper or social media???? If not I wanted to know why and what reason it’s not out please…

    Thank you
    Nayeem Leon Choudhury

  2. csercombe

    July 8, 2017 at 7:28 am

    we can only publish a few each week because of space limitations. Yours will run in the coming weeks.

  3. Stan Zelmanski

    July 8, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Karen Majewski was an unabashed supporter of former City Manager Katrina Powell, whom the City Council voted out by not renewing her contract – this non-renewal was a blow to the mayoral prestige of Majewski.

    Majewski does not address several other important matters:

    (A) full disclosure of the Tekla Vintage water controversy that raised the question of her judgment in allowing the use of another water line belonging to a neighboring business to supply her own and apparently avoiding city sanitation charges;

    (B)the disbanding of the highly controversial local COBRA auto insurance fraud unit of which Hamtramck P.D. was a participant that has been accused of complicity in targeting minorities for harassment and theft in pending federal civil rights cases;

    (C)the firing, suspension, or resignation of numerous department heads resulting in current vacancies in key departments;

    (D)the steady reduction in resident per capita income making Hamtramck one of the poorest Metro Detroit communities during her tenure as mayor;

    (E)the failure to achieve a new collective bargaining agreement with the firefighters’ union;

    (F)the decline in police personnel to only nineteen officers – thus raising questions whether there are sufficient patrols to ensure citizens receive adequate law enforcement protection.

    There is a palpable absence of leadership at City Hall that has created a crisis in confidence among residents – returning Karen Majewski to her mayoral seat will not help this sad situation.

  4. Guest

    July 8, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Hi Nayeem;

    You might have just lost quite a number of voters by posting this “unedited” message!!

  5. Roadman

    July 9, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    I remember when Richard Fabiszak ran for City Council and also for mayor with old-fashioned and controversial positions – always finishing in last place but with the “positive spin” from Richard that hundreds of residents voted for him – thus validating, in his mind, his eccentric views – although most got a chuckle over his quirky behavior.

    Richard will NOT be running this election cycle however Karen Majewski has assumed the role of Richard Fabiszak with her anachronistic and pie-in-the-sky views that most find unacceptable.

    Karen’s political career appears to be in a tailspin as she has shown no leadership to get the city out of the unpopular state receivership the city has been mired in for the last four years.

    Karen has been marginalized, invisible and ineffective as mayor and will likely finish in last place in the mayoral primary – she has become the new Richard Fabiszak.

  6. Rashid

    July 10, 2017 at 4:21 am

    Don’t know why we still have unqualified candidates running for council member and mayor position.

  7. Neighbor

    July 10, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Mayor Majewski will be remembered as the mayor with the most bankruptcies under her “leadership”.

  8. Mohammad Alam

    July 10, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    The city need help. Where are the voice of this city? It is time to move the city forward. If you have time, don’t just post message on social media and blog like this one, rather, go help the neighborhood, walk to the businesses, knock to the doors, talk to the citizens and be a participating, balanced and contributing citizen.

    Thank you.
    Mohammad Alam

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