By Charles Sercombe
TV and newspaper reporters are swarming Hamtramck.
Well, maybe “swarming” is overstating it, but several reporters were in town trying to find monitors from the Justice Department who are in town to observe the election. The DOJ announced a week ago that it would send in agents to make sure voters’ rights were protected and that no one is discriminated against.
But according to Hamtramck Deputy City Clerk August Gitschlag, that’s not really the case. Instead, he said, the department is here to make sure the city has complied with a new law requiring cities where there are a significant number of foreign-speaking voters to post election law and directions in their language.
Hamtramck has a sizeable Bangladeshi community as well as Yemeni and Polish and even Bosnian.
Hamtramck has been and continues to comply with the law.
“It has nothing to do with the Susan Dunn thing,” Gitschlag said.
The reference of Dunn is to the 1999 election when Dunn, who happens to be running for city council in this election, and a group of others challenged the voting rights of over 40 voters.
In an ironic twist, the group officially called themselves “Concerned Citizens for a Better Hamtramck.”
What they did in that election was anything but “better” for the city’s image.
Unfortunately, the group targeted mostly Bangladeshi and Arabic voters, making them swear that they were citizens and were qualified to vote.
Trouble is, the group didn’t have any background knowledge of the individual voters and just randomly challenged voters.
To some, it seemed like a scene from 1950s-era Mississippi where black voters were the target.
Dunn and another member of Concerned Citizens were eventually charged and convicted of harassing voters, which was only a misdemeanor.
There have been no other incidents of voter intimidation since then, but the Justice Department hung around for several years to monitor Hamtramck elections, you know, just in case.
As for voter turnout, it looks like it will be high. Gitschlag said that as of 3 p.m., the turnout was about the same as the primary election held in August. In that election, 2,100 voters participated – an unheard of number for an election for only city offices.
More incredible has been the high number of absentee ballots submitted. At the end of Monday, it was about 1,000 – again, an unheard of number.
In the past, the number of absentee ballots has been 300-400.
This election could be one for the history book.
The Bangladeshi-American community has become a powerhouse voting bloc. The community could elect three council seats to Bangladeshi candidates and a fourth to a Yemeni-American, assuming they vote along ethnic and religious affiliations.
(Both ethnic communities are of the Muslim faith.)
The community could also team up with the Yemeni community and unseat Mayor Karen Majewski and elect Abdul Algazali.
Algazali, a Yemeni-American, is currently on the city council and opted to challenge Majewski instead of seeking re-election to council.
This isn’t the first attempt by Algazali. He lost to her four years ago by 124 votes. He has the upper hand in this election since he beat her by 62 votes in the primary.
Majewski is in the political fight of her career. She has been mayor for eight years and before that served on council. Hamtramck has consistently elected a Polish mayor as long as it’s been a city – since 1922.
As you can expect, she has some fighting words.
On her Facebook page she put this out on Tuesday:
“You have until 8 p.m. to vote tonight.
“Remember that there are people running for office in Hamtramck who do not live here. They do not pay their taxes on time. They do not pay their water bills.
“They do not respect its residents enough to address them or its institutions enough to participate in them. They see Hamtramck as a means to an end and are using this community — the community we worry about, work for, and pour our hearts into — for their own ambitions.
“It makes me angry. Does it make you angry? Then vote.”
Her reference to those who don’t pay their taxes and water bills refer to her opponent and City Councilmember Mohammed Hassan.
It came to light right after the primary election that Algazali was behind on his property taxes by three years on one of this properties.
He promptly paid about $2,000 right after the election.
It was recently discovered that Hassan broke an agreement he signed in August with the city to pay $800 he owes for water service on his house on Neibel St. After The Review brought the matter to light, the city cut off his service.
The delinquencies also raised the question of whether the two could be considered “defaulters” to the city, which is against the city charter and is punishable by being thrown out of office.
Emergency Manager Cathy Square dismissed the matter, saying that in Algazali’s case, it was merely an “oversight.”
And in Hassan’s case, Square said she didn’t want to spend money to hire the city attorney and take the matter to court.
We’ll have more to add as election day proceeds.