By Charles Sercombe
This year’s election season just sparked to life.
And it involves an issue that has long been a part of past elections: the tearing down of candidate signs.
But there was a new twist to this age-old complaint. A cellphone recording circulated on the Facebook pages of local elected officials showing one of Hamtramck’s biggest property owners, Henry Velleman, being confronted by Steve Perri, a social studies teacher who works for a local charter school, for taking down campaign signs from one of his Jos. Campau lots.
Perri can be heard saying: “It’s against the law for taking people’s signs.”
Velleman, carrying away campaign signs for Mohammed Hassan, a current councilmember running for mayor, can be heard denying doing anything illegal.
In an ongoing Facebook discussion about the encounter a debate rose whether Velleman was in his right to remove the signs since it was put on his property without permission.
According to the city’s sign ordinance, you cannot place a candidate sign on vacant lots – even with permission from the owner. That was the case in this matter.
There is no law forbidding a person from removing a sign from their property.
The Review reached out to Velleman for comment, but he did not return a call, nor has he returned past calls for comment on other issues. Velleman has been in the news lately for keeping most of his three dozen Jos. Campau storefronts and lots empty.
He has refused to explain why he does not seek businesses to lease his commercial spaces. Other business owners have complained that Velleman is making the city’s main business strip look like a ghost town.
Velleman has also faced criticism for not maintaining his lots, and allowing them to collect trash and become overgrown. He has since fenced in his lots to prevent trash accumulating, but a quick inspection this week found several of them needing a mowing.
Perri told The Review he is more upset that Velleman allows other candidates to post their signs on his properties, which he said is unfair and undemocratic.
“The problem is he owns like 90% of the property in Hamtramck. If he can claim he does not want certain signs on his property but allows others he can unfairly and unjustly influence the results of the election,” Perri said.
“I have no stance one way or another in the election for Hamtramck as I only work and do not live here, however I do believe in the sanctity of the electoral process. Every candidate should have equal access and equal representation so the outcome of the election can be fair and accurate to the will of the electorate.”
While there might have been other political signs on his lots, when The Review checked on the situation Wednesday, there were no signs to be found.
There is no law in the books restricting who or how many candidates a property owner can promote in an election.
In most instances, candidates complain that rivals or vandals have stolen their legally placed signs. It is rare that anyone is caught in the act.
There are three candidates, including Hassan, Asm (Kamal) Rahman and former Councilmember Cathie Gordon, challenging Mayor Karen Majewski for her job.
In the city council race, there are three seats up for election, including those occupied by incumbents Andrea Karpinski and Ian Perrotta.
Councilmember Hassan has opted to run for mayor instead of seeking re-election to council, which leaves his seat wide open.
The council candidates include: Saiida Miah, Gias Talukder, Mohammed Al-Somirir, Akil Al-Halemi, Nayeem Choudhury, Fadel Almarsoumi, Monzurul Karim and Showkat Choudhury.
Showkat Chowdhury is currently a member of the Hamtramck School Board. Saiida Miah is the daughter of current Councilmember Anam Miah
The Aug. 8 Primary Election will whittle the mayoral race down to the top two finishers. In the council race, the field will be reduced to six candidates.
In both races, the final election will be in November. At this point, the only race on the ballot will be the Hamtramck election. If past elections are a guide, that will likely mean a very light voter turnout will decide who will fill local seats.
Hamtramck already has received national and international attention for having a city council where the majority members are of the Muslim faith.
It is believed the city’s population is now at least 50 to 80 percent of the Muslim faith. For almost 100 years the city has been known as a Polish enclave.
This election year could likely be the turning point for a sweeping change in city government, with Muslim candidates taking all elected positions.
That will also result in huge changeovers in commissions that the mayor and council appoint.
There is at least one documentary crew recording this possible historic shift in city government.