By Ian Perrotta and Charles Sercombe
The second half of 2009 was just as jam-packed with news as the first half. Here’s a look back at July through December (the first half of the year was in last week’s issue).
Early in July a wave of fires in vacant commercial buildings in Detroit heated up concerns that Hamtramck might face a similar situation. Fire Chief Steve Paruk stated that as long as the buildings remain secure, they pose little risk of being a fire hazard. Ironically, vacant commercial buildings would prove to be the least of Hamtramck’s problems in the coming weeks.
In an effort to aid those business in the downtown district that were still open, the Downtown Development Authority installed four surveillance cameras from about Holbrook to Evaline on Jos. Campau.
At a cost of $48,000, the decision was met with criticism from some members of the community. They complained that the cost could have gone toward paying another police officer to patrol the street. If you ask us, a one-time investment in a security device that can be monitored all-day everyday for years to come was money well spent. The cameras can help identify and capture criminals, and they also ease business owners’ fears while recruiting new businesses to the area.
The question of whether the Post Office would close or not still remained unanswered. As it became a national issue, local officials as well as residents began taking steps to save their branch.
At People’s Community Services Senior Day Center, the non-profit agency was busy providing services to the area’s older residents. In addition to activities like games of bingo, puzzles, and nutritious lunches, the Senior Day Center also provided (and still provides) non-medical home care for homebound seniors, caregiver respite services, a food and friendship program, weekly activity trips, Medicare Part D Prescription enrollment assistance and several other great programs
Fed up with the problem of growing blight, resident Heather Martin organized a Saturday morning graffiti clean-up in. Elsewhere in Hamtramck, residents cleaned up on deals offered by a police auction. A whole bunch of bikes and plant grow lights were the big ticket items.
For the Fourth of July, Walter’s Shopping Plaza hosted its 8th Annual Customer Appreciation Day, complete with a free barbeque and a live DJ for entertainment. Over 1,100 people were served.
As the financial crisis continued to cripple the economy, General Motors looked for every possible way to cut costs. One of those ways was to reassess the values on some of its properties. As if the bailout wasn’t enough, they asked for a whopping 80 percent reduction of their property tax at the Poletown Plant.
On the northend of Jos. Campau, things were looking decidedly better. Developers Mark Shimoon and Lee Gkokaj took over the former Al Deeby Dodge auto lot and began turning it into a used car lot. Elsewhere in Hamtramck, the former Knights of Columbus Hall on Conant reopened as the Gates of Columbus Hall.
With a graduation rate of just 61 percent, a tutoring program called Consortium X, brought University of Michigan students to Hamtramck to mentor 20 juniors as they began their journey to college.
The 3rd Annual Hamtramck Hustle was held at Veterans Park and featured over 30 ‘kustom’ cars and ‘rat’ rods. The Dead Last Detroit Car Club hosted the event, which drew attendees from as far away as Dayton, Ohio.
As excitement continued to build toward the anniversary of Hamtramck’s 1959 Little League and 1961 Pony League World Series wins, another 1960s-era memory resurfaced.
However, the 1960s-era destruction of low-income housing under the guise of “urban renewal” that affected mostly African-Americans was not something anyone wanted to celebrate. After a lawsuit was eventually settled, the final chapter was waiting to be written as the city’s obligation called for providing 39 more housing units to end the saga.
A familiar face got a new title in the Police Department when Polish-born Mark Kalinowski was named Chief of Police. The 22-year veteran of the force grew up on Edwin St. and graduated from St. Forian High School in 1978. After high school, he went on to join the Marines. He gained citizenship in 1985 and returned to Hamtramck to join the police department in 1987.
After serving as a D.A.R.E Officer from 1995 to 2000, Kalinowski worked midnight shifts as a Lieutenant. As chief, he said he hopes to improve the department and the city, and says to “look for some positive changes to come soon, courtesy of the Hamtramck Police Department.”
Thanks to Gov. Granholm’s Cool Cities Initiative, walkablity expert Dan Burden took a stroll through Hamtramck to see how Hamtramck can be made more pedestrian-friendly and better looking.
Mayoral candidate Akm Rahman was forced to turn over a website registered to homrich.com, homrich.net, and homrich.org. Homrich Inch., a Detroit area construction company, accused Rahman of claiming the website domain names in an effort to receive a $250,000 payment. Rahman claimed Homrich was his nickname, but an arbitrator ruled that claim to be “quite fantastic.”
After a month of anticipation, the celebration for Hamtramck’s 1959 Little League and 1961 Pony League World Series wins finally came. About 100 people attended a luncheon in honor of the victories.
The Recreation Department broke ground on a new splash pool to be built in Pulaski Park.
A Bangladeshi festival highlighted the sounds and tastes of the Bangladeshi community when Conant Ave. was closed for a weekend of good food and entertainment. Despite behind-the-scenes bickering over control of the event, the festival was a success and showcased some of Hamtramck’s wonderful ethnic diversity.
Aug. 4 turned out to be a historic day for Hamtramck. With the largest turnout for a Primary Election in decades, over 2,400 people cast their votes for mayor and city council. Only one clear winner emerged: the Bangladeshi voting bloc, which up until then had been considered only a fringe player in Hamtramck’s political scene.
The three top vote-getters in the City Council race were all members of the Bangladeshi community. Newcomers Kazi Miah, Mohammed Hassan and Anam Miah finished first, second and third, respectively, while Tom Jankowski, Alan Shulgon and Kathy Kristy rounded out the top six.
One of the biggest shocks of the Primary Election was the failure of incumbent Scott Klein to make the cut. Though he often put himself in the front of polarizing issues, such as the so-called gay rights ordinance, political observers thought he would at least squeak by in the Primary.
“Six years is a good run, and it has been my honor and privilege to serve this city. I have done so with honor, fighting not for what is popular but what is right. I am proud of my record, and would not change a thing,” said Klein, sounding very Bobby Kennedy-ish, in an e-mail statement after his defeat.
The mayoral contest saw incumbent candidate Karen Majewski beating out four other candidates. Yemeni-American Councilman Dr. Abdul Algazali, who decided not to seek re-election to City Council and instead set his sights on becoming the mayor, finished a surprising second. The two would go on to square-off in November’s General Election.
In other mayoral news, a street in Hamtramck was dedicated to former Hamtramck Mayor Robert Kozaren, the city’s longest serving mayor. Kozaren was in office from 1980 to 1997. Missant Drive was ceremoniously renamed in his honor.
On other streets in Hamtramck, things got a little safer. Thanks to a Justice Department grant through the city’s Weed and Seed program, two police officers were assigned to walk the streets a few days each month.
The patrols had a two-pronged approach to help prevent crime. They allow officers to establish more contact with business owners, and they help prevent larcenies and handbag thefts that often occur during the first of every month.
Extra police could have come in handy at a reunion of Col. Hamtramck housing project tenants. Two men began fighting, and one ended up shooting the other.
According to witnesses, the two men appeared to be horsing around and pushing each other. At one point, one man left and came back shortly afterward. When the man returned, he attacked the other man, pushing him to the ground and shooting him in the head. The bullet grazed the victim and he survived. Though police said it was not known what the two were fighting about, “there was alcohol involved.”
And in probably the dumbest move by criminals in Hamtramck this year, police were called to St. Aubin St. after reports came in about two young men firing off guns from their porch. When officers arrived on the scene, the men went inside, but because there were spent shell casings on the porch, police had probable cause that a crime had been committed and entered the house. Inside, they discovered stacks of stolen televisions, computers and other electronic goods.
Making news in a good way was Polonia restaurant. The Yemans St. establishment became famous when The Travel Channel’s show “No Reservations” aired a segment that featured a glowing review from host Anthony Bourdain.
Elsewhere in Hamtramck, the fate of the Post Office continued to remain uncertain. Postal workers at the branch said that their office would indeed be closed and merged with the Hamtramck branch on Dequindre St., but they also added that no official announcement of the closing had yet been made.
As the smoke from the Primary Election still cleared, reverberations continued to remain strong. The once Polish-dominated town was amazed to see the three top vote-getters in the City Council election were of Bangladeshi descent, and after an analysis of the votes it was clear that the Bengali community rallied behind its candidates, who undoubtedly campaigned hard.
A surprising twist threw this paper in the mix when former (more on that later) Human Relations Commission Chairman Bill Meyer told The Review’s publisher John Ulaj that unless he offered space in The Review for the Bengali community to write their own stories he and others would start another paper. Council candidate Mohammed Hassan issued a similar ultimatum to the editor of The Review, Charles Sercombe.
Some relevant election information came from City Manager Bill Cooper when he announced that the city would face some hard times in the coming future. Revenue stemming from the Dickerson detention facility and taxes from GM and American Axle dried up, taking away millions of dollars from the city. Cooper announced the dire news because of what he termed “reckless” talk from some candidates promising tax cuts and putting more police officers on the street, saying such talk was “irresponsible.”
More election news came with the approval by City Council to place a tax proposal on the Nov. 3 General Election Ballot asking for an extra one-mill on property taxes over the next five years. The tax would raise $1.1 million and would allow the city to purchase a new ladder truck for the Fire Department and an ambulance. The current ladder truck is 33 years old and had been breaking down in recent years.
At Café 1923, it was Open Mic Night every first and third Friday of the month with hosts Jaye Thomas and Ken Marten. The event ran from 7-9 p.m. and performances ranged from musical and lyrical acts to poetry readings and comedy routines.
Speaking of cafés, Maine Street restaurant opened up a sidewalk café on Jos. Campau. The restaurant was the latest business on the northend to offer an outdoor option, joining others like Celina’s Bar and Maria’s Comida.
Also improving the city were Kathleen Bittner and Thomas Koch, who organized a community garden next to the public library. The pair used green technology to irrigate the garden and had plans to build a gazebo in the near future.
Despite a rain that refused to quit, a community health fair weathered the storm and had a successful Saturday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park. Adults and kids enjoyed games, free refreshments and received an armful of pamphlets on health tips.
The Travel Channel must have been on to something with their segment on Polonia restaurant because in mid-August nine national travel writers brought in by Travel Michigan and the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau came to Hamtramck to tour the city.
The day kicked off with a wake-up pastry at the New Palace Bakery, went on with a tour of St. Florian Church, and continued with some samplings of Kowalski Sausage. After that the crew headed to the Polish Art Center, had some dill pickle soup from Polish Village Café, and then were led to Pope Park by polka star Big Daddy Lackowski, where the Wawel Dancers performed. The day ended after a brief trip to the Polish Market and lunch at Polonia.
Hamtramck’s diversity was literally on display when the Durga Temple of Detroit began the two-day celebration of Suvo Janmashtani (a birthday ceremony for Hare Krishna) with a parade through the city’s streets. About 200 people from the Hamtramck/Detroit Hindu community took part in the event.
Other members of Hamtramck’s diverse community weren’t feeling the love. Gay rights activist Greg Manore, the Director for Hamtramck United, said in an e-mail that last year’s anti-gay campaign was bankrolled largely by sources outside of Hamtramck. He said that according to documents from the Wayne County Clerk’s Office, 80 percent of the funding came from outside the city. In related news, the NAACP announced it would host a panel discussion on hate crime.
Interim Hamtramck High School Principal Kirk Goodlow’s contract was approved for another year by a narrow vote of 4-3. The district continues to look for a permanent replacement.
Free flu shots were available to Hamtramck students through the Hamtramck School-Based Health Center. Funding came from the Vaccines for Children Program, and the announcement of the service was made in light of reports that local doctors were charging between $200 and $500 for the shots.
If the stress of the election (or anything else for that matter) was just too much, a new business on Jos. Campau was the perfect place to let it go. The Yoga Suite-Center for Yoga Studies offered six-week courses for everyone from the very beginner to the seasoned expert, as well as several other classes designed to fit your individual needs.
When an event of immense magnitude takes place, most people can remember the exact thing they were doing when it happened. So, on the day we almost lost Hamtramck, what were you doing?
A fuel tank erupted into flames at the Sterling Oil plant on Grand Haven at about 11:30 a.m. on a clear Thursday morning. About 800 people were evacuated from the Col. Hamtramck public housing complex, as well as dozens of other residents living nearby.
A thick black plume of smoke was visible from every corner of Detroit and miles beyond. Hamtramck firefighters were aided by Detroit and Highland Park firefighters, and in an amazing display of bravery and skill, managed to contain the enormous fire in about three hours. At any moment the tanks could have exploded, likely killing everyone at the scene.
In a political firestorm, Mayor Karen Majewski removed Bill Meyer from his appointed position on the Hamtramck Human Relations Commission. Majewski said she removed Meyer because of ongoing concerns she had about his leadership and some of the comments he has made.
“I removed Bill because of a long-term pattern of behavior that caused me to lose confidence in his commitment to the commission’s mission, culminating in his acting unilaterally, outside the bounds of the commission’s mandate and its procedure,” Majewski said in an e-mail.
Meyer counteracted by reading a prepared statement at a City Council meeting, stating that “Overstepping my bounds referred more to my growing public disillusionment with the current administration and its abusive use of power than to any improper behavior with the commission.”
Remember the announcement by the NAACP of a hate crime meeting? Word on the street was that it might turn into a confrontation, which prompted Police Chief Mark Kalinowski to bow-out of the discussion. What caused the stir? Hamtramck Concilmember Scott Klein, who is openly gay and a proponent of gay rights, said he and other gay activists would “hijack” the meeting to confront NAACP President Kamal Rahman and other Bengali NAACP members who campaigned against Hamtramck’s “Natural Rights” ordinance last year.
More on this later…
One good thing you can say about the Sterling Oil plant fire is that at least Hamtramck was prepared. Fire officials say an agreement with Detroit, Highland Park and Wayne County to help out in case there was a fire at the plant worked out.
The one glitch – if you can call it that – was a shortage of special foam used to fight a fire involving fuel. Actually, there wasn’t really a shortage. The foam is expensive and eventually becomes ineffective if it sits for too long. Fire officials were able to get more foam on the scene in time.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency monitored the air and ground and found no signs of contamination.
The Public School District also had an emergency plan in place. In this case it involved a what-to-do list if an epidemic of the H1N1 – or swine flu – were to break out. In a worst case scenario, the district would close down the schools and send homework assignments to the homes of students – so kids, coming down with the flu is still no excuse.
Congressman John Conyers came to town to host a town hall meeting on a pending “Hate Crimes” law that Congress eventually passed. The legislation in question would extend special protection to gays and lesbians. The meeting went smoothly until Conyers lashed out at Review Editor Charles Sercombe regarding the headline of an article on the town hall meeting.
The article reported that Mayoral Pro Tem Scott Klein planned to “hijack” the meeting over what he said was the hypocrisy of having the Hamtramck NAACP be the host of the meeting. Klein, who is gay, said the president of the NAACP helped lead a campaign against Hamtramck’s anti-discrimination law protecting gays and lesbians.
Klein never showed up at the meeting, but Conyers, nonetheless, questioned why the article was written.
Charles Sercombe told Conyers twice to first read the article, to which Conyers said he would and then he’d have a “gooder” discussion with Sercombe. Conyers never followed up on that promise. Several phone calls to his office were not returned.
As for the president of the Hamtramck NAACP, Asm “Kamal” Rahman, he came under criticism for comments he made during a hall meeting regarding Hamtramck’s proposed gay rights law. In a Youtube clip, Rahman can be seen saying that the law would lead to bestiality.
Old-timers will remember the former Polish-American Club on Holbrook as a place where the city’s movers and shakers regularly met and shared drinks. The club had long ago closed down and was reborn as the Holbrook Market. The market boasted of super fresh produce and Halal meat and poultry.
Labor Day weekend normally falls on the first weekend of September and this year was no exception since that’s when the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival took place. But this year was indeed an exception – that is, exceptionally good.
The festival was organized by the city’s Special Events Coordinator, Eve Doster-Knepp, and she won a lot of praise for the incredible turnout the festival enjoyed. Through her contacts, Doster was able to get WXYZ Channel 7 to broadcast some segments of its daily news from the site.
For many, the festival reminded them of the huge turnouts the city experienced in the 1980s.
City officials backed off from placing a special tax to allow the city to purchase a new ladder fire truck and ambulance on the ballot in the upcoming election. City officials said they discovered that when voters approved a new City Charter a few years ago, the city can now actually increase the maximum tax rate a few extra mills without voter approval.
In the meantime, a new fire engine the city ordered a year earlier arrived and received the blessing of a visiting priest from Poland. This engine, however, is not an aerial ladder truck, which the city needs to replace.
The city has yet to take action on raising property taxes, but the issue will likely resurface in the coming year.
Times are tough all over, especially for those who ride the bus. Detroit announced it could no longer afford to run some bus routes that were little used, including service to Holbrook. Detroit also cut back service to Conant.
No one knows for sure the last time the city adopted a Master Plan, but no matter, the time was ripe to begin working on a new one. A Master Plan entails coming up with plans for development in the city.
The public was and is still invited to give its input on what kinds of businesses and improvements to make.
It’s lights, camera, action for Hamtramck’s “Cynical Man” cartoon. The creator of the cartoon, Matt Feazell, who is married to Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski, said a movie production company plans to bring the animated series to life using local actors.
In a stunning setback, the HHS Cosmos football winning football season made a sudden reverse. Due to an oversight, the team’s first three wins had to be scratched because a player was found to be ineligible. Cosmos fever was riding high since this was the first year in several years that the team won a single game, let alone three in a row.
The team’s coach was eventually fired for fudging grades for several players and the season ended in a string of losses.
If you are a landlord in Hamtramck, chances are you have already had a run-in with city inspectors. The city started a crackdown on housing stock several months earlier and turned up the pressure on landlords to fix up their properties.
Recycling is here for good, but plans for curbside or alley pick-ups will have to wait, city officials said. The reason? It costs too dang much for that kind of service. Instead, residents can drop off their recyclable items on the last Saturday of every month at a dumpster located in the city parking lot on Caniff and McDougall.
Pop open the champagne bottles. No, it’s not an early celebration of the New Year. Instead, the city rejoiced with the news that the Postal Service has backed off on a plan to close Hamtramck’s branch office.
Just a week before a rally was going to be held to convince postal authorities to save the office, the news hit the streets that Hamtramck was spared the postal budget axe. Hamtramck resident Russ Gordon was among several locals who organized the protest.
He said the voice of the people was indeed heard by the powers-that-be.
“They were sensitive to the needs of Hamtramck,” Gordon said. “Hamtramck is special because we have such a large immigrant population who walk to stores and for services, like the post office. Having a local post office branch is not a matter of convenience; it’s a matter of necessity.”
With November’s General Election looming, candidates for mayor and council squared off in a number of candidate forums. In both the mayor’s race and the council, it was a toss-up over the outcomes.
And November’s election did indeed get interesting.
There was good news/bad news for the public school district. On the one hand, the district enjoyed an uptick in the number students enrolled, which meant the district would receive an increase in state financial aid.
Ah, but now the bad news. Those guys up in Lansing, yeah those guys, had to go and take money away from all school districts, perhaps as much as $218 per student. For Hamtramck, that meant a loss of over $600,000 for the coming school year.
If you were an immigrant who applied for U.S. citizenship and just earned the right to call yourself a citizen, well, the best place in the metro area to be sworn in would be – drum roll, please – Hamtramck.
And that’s just what 154 new citizens did at PNA hall.
Hamtramck poet Vievee Francis can now concentrate full time on finishing her book thanks to a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, which gave her a tidy sum of money. The subject of her new book is on the Wendish region of Texas, where Francis’ family has been living since the 1800s.
City Manager Bill Cooper got what few other people have these days: a little job security. A majority of City Councilmembers agreed to extend Cooper’s contract another three years.
The firefighters also received a new contract and received a major give-back. City Manager Bill Cooper agreed to restore health coverage to the families of firefighters, something the former state-appointed emergency financial manager took away.
Cooper said he restored full coverage because new-hires were coming and going, causing a constant turnover in the department.
“It was very difficult in giving the guys more training here and then seem them go to other cities,” Cooper said.
When it comes to parking ice cream trucks in yards and on the streets for lengths of time, the City Council is definitely not sweet on that idea. The council screamed over commercial vehicles – including ice cream trucks – being stored on lots.
Councilmembers say it’s unsightly and leads to visual blight. A new ordinance banning the storage of commercial vehicles was worked up over the next few weeks and finally adopted in December.
A gunman known as the “AK-47 Bandit” was at first thought to have been responsible for three shootings, including one in which a man almost died. He got the nickname because his weapon of choice was a firearm that looked very much like the legendary –and highly illegal – AK-47.
The suspect, Spencer Williams, was eventually arrested and charged with one shooting.
You could say that members of the STAR Touring and Riding Association not only have big bikes, they also have big hearts. The bike club made a stop in Hamtramck to distribute boxes of food to the needy.
`“We try to do this as much as we can to show people that not all motorcycle groups are bad and that we care,” said a spokesman for the group.
A photo-journalist got caught up in the ongoing student confrontations at Hamtramck High School. The journalist, Stephen McGee, was working at Real Church on Caniff when police officers tried to break up students roving from one area to another in an effort to square-off.
McGee picked up his camera and rushed over the school to photograph the scene but officers demanded he hand over his camera despite his protests. He was eventually given back his camera but he said some photographs were deleted.
Thousands of residents and those from the metro area received free flu shots at the high school community center, thanks to the Wayne County Health Department.
Well, this year’s election year was truly one for the history books. First off, though, yes, Mayor Karen Majewski won a second term, beating her challenger, Abdul Algazali by 123 votes.
In the intensely watched City Council race, two Bangladeshi-Americans, Kazi Miah and Mohhamed Hassan, won along with former mayor Tom Jankowski. The Bengali community is now a confirmed major power broker when it comes to Hamtramck elections.
As of January, when the new term starts, there will be three Bangladeshi-Americans serving on council. Incumbent Alan Shulgon lost his re-election bid.
Despite the solid outcomes, mayoral candidate Algazali and city council candidate Anam Miah called for a recount, both claiming there could have been errors with the ballot counting machines.
The recount did not result in any significant changes in the election results.
With the city election over, city officials were given a dose of economic reality. Unless the city’s union workers agree to contract concessions, City Manager Bill Cooper said, 17 cops and 16 firefighters will have to be laid off.
Cooper told the council and newly elected councilmembers that the city faces a $4.2 million deficit over the next three years. Later in December, the forecast had changed significantly after Cooper talked with the unions, which came up with suggestions on how the city can spare some of the layoffs.
One solution will rely on police officers writing at least $60,000 worth of traffic tickets each month.
For the first time ever in Hamtramck, a woman was named Veteran of The Year. The Hamtramck Allied Veteran Council awarded Joan Barrois that title. Barrois served in the Navy.
The Kosciuszko Middle School Robotics Team came out on top in a regional competition. Hey, Hamtramck just might have some budding engineers emerge in the near future.
And there’s more good news for the public schools. Six teachers were awarded $1,000 each for their various proposals on what was called “creative teaching.”
A lawsuit filed by police officer Dennis Nunlee dropped a bomb on his department. In his lawsuit, he accused a supervisor of discrimination. Nunlee is one of three African-Americans on the force, which has a total of about 50 officers.
Nunlee also said the supervisor, as well as other officers, frequently used the “N” word.
News of the lawsuit came at an awkward time. The Bangladesh community hosted a community meeting with the police department to open up dialogue and bridge some misunderstandings. Those who attended said the meeting was a good first step toward increasing understanding.
Just how tough is it for homeowners?
Must be pretty bad considering that over 150 Hamtramck homeowners were about to lose their houses because they fell behind on property taxes.
The houses were among thousands of other houses facing tax foreclosure listed by Wayne County in a special publication distributed through the Detroit Free Press.
Firefighters were crossing their fingers that a string of fires in vacant houses in the southend would not turn into a rash of arsons. The growing number of houses lost to foreclosures during the past year had increasingly worried city officials for this very reason.
The city isn’t alone in facing tough financial times. Over at the public schools, a $3.8 million deficit was projected for the next three years. The district has a five-year recovery plan, but it will rely on the school unions to agree to some contract concessions to reach that goal.
In the meantime, Superintendent Tom Niczay and others went to Lansing to protest financial aid cuts to all the school districts. Niczay handed in a petition signed by about a thousand residents who protested the cut.
There was some good news amid all the economic doom and gloom. GM confirmed that the Detroit-Hamtramck Poletown Plant will indeed be producing the Volt, an electric-fuel hybrid. GM held a press conference to make the announcement, which featured a number of speakers, including Mayor Majewski.
And on that upbeat note, folks, is the conclusion of 2009.