By Charles Sercombe
Mayor Karen Majewski, Hamtramck’s first woman to hold that position, is now starting her fourth term in office. The Review asked the mayor to talk about her tenure in office and where she thinks the city is heading.
What do you consider some of your achievements during the past three terms?
Majewski: None of what has been accomplished over the last 12 years has been the work of one person alone. As a city, we’ve done a lot in that time, just in very practical terms and often under challenging conditions — we’re addressing our sewer issues, repairing streets and alleys, we finally put up street signs throughout the whole city (it might seem like a small thing but it was a huge struggle!), we’ve brought the R-31 lawsuit to near conclusion, we created a Hamtramck Historical Museum.
These may be the kind of day-to-day projects that face any city, but they have been no small thing for Hamtramck. I like to think I’ve had a hand in guiding us in this good direction. Beyond the shovel in the ground projects though, I think my most important task has been solidifying the city’s reputation as a diverse community that welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs.
More than anything, projecting that positive image, without whitewashing real life conflict and the messiness of the democratic process, reflects well on the city and underscores our importance as a model of the American Dream. In the end, I think that message will be my most important legacy.
In your opinion, how is Hamtramck doing, financially, economically and culturally?
Majewski: It seems like every year I find myself saying that I’ve never felt so positive about Hamtramck’s future (well, maybe except for 2010. We did have some hard years…)
And I find myself saying it again. In financial terms, the city budget is stable and the city is attracting new businesses and residents. We’ve still got big ticket financial issues like pensions and infrastructure, but we should feel pretty good about facing those issues from a solid foundation.
We have some gaps in city services and some problem buildings on Jos. Campau, but also dozens of new businesses and a high demand for housing as new people move into the city. Culturally we’re more exciting and more dynamic and diverse than ever.
What do you hope to achieve in this new term?
Majewski: I have several priorities going into this new term. They include focusing on city services, infrastructure, and economic development. What would I like to see?
City wide curbside recycling, the completion of the final R-31 homes, street and alley repaving, the next phases of the sewer rehab project, and the creation of a robust Department of Community & Economic Development. For starters.
Do you think local control will be returned to Hamtramck? Why or why not?
Majewski: I’m confident that once we hire a permanent city manager, which I estimate will happen within the first 6 months of this year, the State of Michigan will be more than happy to cut us free.
Especially since the Flint fiasco, the State has been distancing itself from the emergency management formula in general, and it’s my impression that they are just waiting for evidence that we are under stable management to happily step away from us as well.
What are some of the challenges facing the city?
Majewski: Finances continue to be the biggest challenge. Obviously, we face some huge longterm expenses — our pension obligations, deferred maintenance on our streets and alleys, our inadequate sewer system. No surprise there.
Deferred maintenance of many of our commercial buildings is also proving a serious deterrent to outside development. This will be part of the challenge facing — and signals the need for — a reinvigorated economic development department.
After this term is completed you will have served as mayor for 16 years. The longest serving mayor, Robert Kozaren, served for 18 years. Are you interested in breaking that record?
Majewski: When I first ran for mayor in 2005, if anyone had told me I would still be serving in 2021, I would probably have been terrified! I’m not interested in breaking any record for longevity in office for its own sake, and of course it’s way too soon to talk about a 5th term.
I’ve always said that I will be ready to step away from this position when I feel comfortable that Hamtramck will be in good hands with my successor. That means someone competent, smart, progressive, with the best interests of Hamtramck at heart.
So one of the most important things I can do is to hasten my own obsolescence by cultivating our younger residents for leadership roles, whether in elected office or some other avenue of public service.
While experience, stability, and institutional memory are valuable in public office, I would also like to see people with new ideas, new areas of professional expertise, and new energy ready to guide this ship.
What would you like to say to the residents?
Majewski: Thank you for hitching your star to this great little city. You are all welcome, and you are all valued.