By Charles Sercombe
As we say every year, Hamtramck is chockful of news.
The year 2021 was no exception.
Here is Part Two of our Year in Review.
Another summer, another flood.
Once again, Hamtramck suffered massive flooding after a heavy rain, although we weren’t the only city to experience that.
Several older communities in the metro area also recorded widespread flooding. And, according to weather experts, the problem is here to stay — no thanks to climate change.
The best solution that can be hoped for is a massive investment in the area’s infrastructure.
Otherwise, word to the wise: don’t store anything of value in your basement.
Some Hamtramck High School students had had enough of the city’s littering problem. So, they organized a student-lead group called LEAP (Leaders of Environmental Awareness and Preservation) and set out to spread awareness of the problem, and get people more involved in combatting litter.
Hamtramck’s party of the year was back on.
After taking last year off because of the Covid pandemic, organizers of the Hamtramck Labor Day Festival announced that the city’s largest outdoor annual gathering was back on.
What didn’t return, though was the Polish Day Parade. In fact, it’s never coming back to Hamtramck at all.
Parade organizers told The Review that the parade will take place in Warren next year, but no date was set.
A Warren man was charged with shooting to death a 20-year-old Hamtramck man. This was the second homicide of the year.
The suspect, along with others, shot into a group of males playing basketball in the area of Buffalo and Yemans. The motive, police said, was retaliation for a previous incident.
This year’s Fourth of July celebration had a special twist. A group of baseball enthusiasts put together an old-timey version of baseball at the historic Hamtramck Stadium.
The players did not use gloves, and played by a set of rules from the 1860s.
About 100 baseball fans watched the game – despite an intense heat and blistering sun.
The stadium also got an extra boost toward its renovation: The Wayne County Commission announced that it was awarding the stadium $850,000 for the project.
The Hamtramck Public School District announced that it had expanded the number of buildings it owns.
The district actually purchased two buildings: the former People’s Community Services, located at 8633 Jos. Campau; and the former Social Security building, at 9324 Conant.
At the district’s State of the District Address, Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed said the Jos. Campau building was purchased for $527,500, and the Conant building was purchased for a little over $1.4 million.
The district initially planned to convert the Conant building into classrooms. However, later in the year that plan was scrapped. It’s not known what the district plans to do with the buildings.
Later in the month, the district had more exciting news: The federal government had earmarked millions of dollars for the district to make its buildings safe from the Covid pandemic.
The long-awaited bike path that connects Hamtramck to Detroit – and beyond – got a financial shot in the arm.
US Representative Brenda Lawrence, along with a host of local, Detroit, Wayne County and state officials, held a press conference, announcing a multi-million-dollar infrastructure package.
Out of a $16.2 million aid package slated for southeast Michigan, $3.9 million is targeted for completing the Joe Louis Greenway project, which includes the construction of a 27-mile bike path that connects to Hamtramck.
The project is named after Joe Louis, the famed Detroit boxer.
The aid package was part of what was called the “INVEST in America Act.”
Mayor Karen Majewski survived another election challenge, despite a harsh social media campaign against her, and serious doubt among election watchers about her chances.
Majewski came in second, behind newcomer Amer Ghalib, in Tuesday’s Primary Election.
Ghalib, who has no experience in city government, beat Majewski by less than 400 votes.
There was more good news about the Hamtramck Baseball Stadium. It was announced that the federal government awarded $2.6 million for renovation of the structure.
The sound of music was once again heard in the streets of Hamtramck.
After taking a year off because of the Covid pandemic, the Hamtramck Music Fest made its return. The festival is usually held in March, but the pandemic prevented that from happening once again this year, the same as with last year.
With more events now being allowed, and more public gatherings too, organizers decided to shoot for a summer version of the festival.
Although there were fewer venues offering to host the annual event this year, there were still enough to accommodate well over 100 bands and performers.
Mask up, students.
That was the word from the Hamtramck Public School District about what to expect with the return of in-classroom learning in the fall.
All students and staff were – and still are — required to wear masks while inside school buildings.
For those parents who wished to continue having their children learn remotely via virtual lessons, the district required that they sign up — and make a commitment.
According to the recent Census count, Hamtramck is one of the fastest growing cities in the country – population-wise, that is.
The Census revealed that there are now over 6,000 more people living here than 10 years ago – the last time the Census was conducted.
That is a 28 percent jump in population. There are officially 28,433 residents here.
Hamtramck police suspended their crackdown on jaywalkers and other pedestrian law enforcement after the controversial arrest of a man on the southend last Saturday.
Some in the community said the arrest was unwarranted and needlessly alienated the public. The department later said it would dismiss all jaywalking tickets.
Hamtramck lost one of its favorite bar owners.
Brad Ruff, who had just sold Kelly’s Bar on Holbrook, died while riding a motorcycle in Eastpointe. A driver blew through a stop sign and struck him. Brad’s wife, Patti, was also on the bike, and was, herself, badly injured.
Say goodbye to free parking in the city’s business district. New high-tech parking meters were installed — and plenty of folks were not happy about that.
The hourly meter cost also came as a shock to many.
It’s $1 per hour now, with a maximum allotted time for being able to park in the same space set at three hours.
To this day, the new meter system remains controversial.
Hamtramck got some company in the history books of the Little League World Series.
A team from Taylor became the second team ever in Michigan to win the series.
Hamtramck’s team won it all in 1959, while being led by the incomparable Art “Pinky” Deras, who served as a dual threat both with his hitting and pitching.
Deras, 75, had this to say about the new champs:
“I’m surprised it took so long! I never thought it would take 62 years, but I wish them the best.”
Hamtramck Labor Day Festival saw a welcome return, after taking a year off due to Covid.
The weather was perfect, people showed up, bands played, the canoe race was wet and wild, Big Time wrestlers put on a crazy show, and what more can you say?
There was one noticeable difference this year: some things were scaled back a bit. There were fewer food vendors than usual, and just one performance stage.
Hamtramck never rests.
Just as the Caniff Ave. reconstruction project was getting buttoned up, two other city projects got underway.
Renovation of the Hamtramck Stadium grandstands was one of them.
Funding for the job came from a variety of sources, including a Wayne County grant for $850,000, and $2.6 million from several other sources, which included:
The Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium; the Hamtramck Parks Conservancy; the Detroit Tigers Foundation; the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation; the Kresge Foundation; the Michigan Municipal League Foundation; and the National Park Service/Department of the Interior.
In other improvement news, a sidewalk replacement plan was ongoing. This project was scaled down, no longer proposing to charge property owners, but instead financing a smaller version with a $100,000 budget in city funds.
This year, the following streets had their worst sidewalk slabs replaced:
• Denton, between Lumpkin and Jos. Campau
• Alice, between Lumpkin and Jos. Campau
• Lumpkin, between Denton and Holbrook
• St. Aubin, between Denton and Holbrook
And, also, Wayne County was overseeing the repaving of Conant. It was the summer of orange barrels.
A former Hamtramck police officer, charged with assaulting two people he arrested back in 2014, was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
Ryan McInerney, 45, of Grosse Ile Twp., was charged with the crimes back in 2018, and pled guilty to using excessive force, and to violating the civil rights of one victim.
The matter was resolved in a plea deal with the US Justice Department.
The local Yemeni-American community held a rally in Zussman Park to protest the death of a California man visiting his homeland.
According to various media reports, Abdelmalik Alsanabani, 30, had recently traveled to Yemen, arriving in the southern part of the country. He was intending to travel to his hometown in the northern part of Yemen, where he planned to visit his mother.
However, on the way there, he had to go through several checkpoints. At one of those checkpoints, militia men accused him of being connected with a rival political party, and was subsequently tortured and killed.
Hamtramck joined thousands of other communities nationwide in cracking down on speeders in residential neighborhoods.
Speed humps (not speed bumps).
Speed humps have less of an incline that speed bumps, which traffic experts say can lead to drivers going out of control.
Hamtramck installed four speed humps, two on Charest St. in front of Hamtramck High School, which has long been a nightmare for residents there (who have suffered through high schoolers speeding down their street), and two on Hanley St. where the Tau Beta School is located.
This was considered a pilot project, and it cost about $18,000 for supplies, installation and signs. Funding came out of the city’s road budget.
The installation of these traffic safety devices also came at a time of increased outcry by residents over speeders in their neighborhoods.
In other words, they wanted more speed humps.
Hamtramckans are not alone.
The Detroit Free Press recently reported that there are over 17,000 requests from different areas of the City of Detroit for speed humps.
The program proved successful; more speed humps will be installed in the coming year.
A deal was reached to save the Yemeni mural, located at Jos. Campau and Goodson, from becoming obstructed from view.
Local social action group OneHamtramck issued a press release, touting the end of a three-year negotiation to save the mural they initially commissioned back in 2011, and which was realized two years later by Chilean muralist Dasic Fernandez.
A developer had planned to build a commercial building in the empty lot next to the mural.
In an unexpected move, Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed took a leave of absence.
Ahmed had been on the job since 2019, and recently received a contract extension.
In her letter, Ahmed said that she is taking a break from her position to “prioritize and address my own physical, mental health and well-being.”
She did not specify say what ailments she was suffering from.
Ahmed, like so many other school superintendents, had seen added responsibilities and burdens while overseeing the district during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her leave of absence also came at a time of turmoil in the district. Over 20 teachers, administrators and staff members resigned during a single month.
Later it was announced that Nagil Nagi, who is the district’s English Language Director, would be the Interim Superintendent.
Ahmed is scheduled to come back after Jan. 10.
It was also announced that Michelle Imbrunone, the district’s head of Human Resources, took a leave of absence. No reason was given.
Hamtramck joined the growing list of Michigan cities with a high lead content in the drinking water.
The city administration issued a press release saying that a recent batch of water samples from 42 houses showed six of them having slightly more lead particles in the water than is considered safe.
According to lab results, those six sample houses had 17 parts per billion of lead, just over 15 parts per billion (which triggered an alert).
However, the city said there was no need to panic. Residents were told to allow water from their taps to run for a few minutes before consuming it or using it for cooking.
It was also recommended to install a filter.
A proposal to fire City Attorney James Allen and his law firm was met with the sound of silence from city councilmembers.
Councilmember Carrie Beth Lasley submitted a series of resolutions at a council meeting, to fire Allen, but did not get a motion by her colleagues to entertain a vote.
Allen and the city were recently named in a federal lawsuit filed by Charles Blackwell of Farmington Hills.
The lawsuit claimed that Allen violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and attempted to suppress Blackwell’s First Amendment rights.
Blackwell, 28, said he was shot in the back in a drive-by shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Blackwell, a self-described government watchdog, had been sending Allen numerous Freedom of Information Act requests over matters in the City of Inkster, where Allen is also the city attorney.
A spat between the two developed, and Allen sent multiple emails to Blackwell mocking his handicap.
Allen, through his law firm, issued a press release apologizing for his language.
“I can explain what led me to the point of stupidly using inappropriate and hyperbolic language directed at Mr. Blackwell, but I cannot excuse it.
“I resorted to language born of frustration built up over 18 months, but I do not condone and I apologize for the language I used. I was wrong.”
As the November General Election got closer, there was wide speculation about whether history would be made in the mayoral election.
Mayor Karen Majewski was facing a tough – if not impossible – re-election challenge from candidate Amer Ghalib, who had never held local elective office.
Ghalib came out as the top vote-getter in the primary election last August, pulling 364 votes ahead of second-place finisher Majewski.
Last August, Majewski was optimistic she could recover.
“I’m confident that we can make up the deficit and win the general,” Majewski told The Review at that time.
This wasn’t the first time Majewski had to come from behind, but in previous elections she had only a handful of votes to overcome.
Ghalib, a Yemeni-American, represented the emerging political muscle of the Yemeni community.
Yes, Hamtramck’s November election made history.
For the first time ever, a Yemeni-American will be the city’s new mayor.
Amer Ghalib trounced Mayor Karen Majewski in the election by an almost 3-to-1 margin.
Not only did that make history, but also for the first time ever, an entire city council and mayor are all Muslim. That made national — and international — news. It is quite likely that this is also a first-ever for the country.
That political influence will affect any future controversial ballot proposals, such as those pertaining to gay rights and marijuana retail sales. Both of those issues have been controversial in Hamtramck, and are especially sensitive for the mostly social-issue conservative Muslim community.
On both of those issues, Majewski had been a supporter.
Ghalib, 41, ran on a platform of change being needed. While he professed to have “bold” ideas to fix the city’s financial and infrastructure problems, he did not offer specifics, other than that he would work with the council and administration.
Majewski, 66, was seeking a fifth term, and will have served 16 years as mayor by the end of her term on Dec. 31. Had she won and then served out the term, Majewski would have been the city’s longest-serving mayor.
She is now also the last in line of those of Polish heritage to have been the city’s mayor since Hamtramck became a city 100 years ago.
This was a deadly year in Hamtramck. The city recorded its fifth and sixth homicides for the year.
A man and his girlfriend were shot to death in his apartment at the Rotana building on Caniff Ave.
An acquaintance of theirs was charged with the murders. The motive was, apparently, a robbery.
As police overtime costs increased, the city council refused two proposals to hire more officers.
City Councilmember Fadel Al-Marsoumi was behind both proposals. His proposals, however, came at a time when there had been talk nationwide to “defund” police departments. That backlash came after numerous media reports of minorities, particularly African-Americans, being killed by officers during arrests.
As it turned out, the city was awarded almost $500,000 from a federal grant to hire more police.
Details of that plan have yet to be worked out.
Will Hamtramck see any of the newly passed national infrastructure funding?
That was the multi-million-dollar question city officials were pondering.
Recently, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was passed by congress, and Michigan is slated to receive $10 billion to fix bridges and roads, as well as for a slew of other projects.
But one of the key earmarks for the state’s funding – and of keen interest to Hamtramck – is for replacing lead service lines for drinking water.
Hamtramck recently discovered, through a sample from six households, that the lead level was just over what is considered safe to consume.
Many older households in the state are still outfitted with old lead water lines.
The estimated cost to fully replace all the city’s lead service lines is $55 million. According to the city, it costs $10,500 to replace each lead line leading into a residence.
About 500 lines have already been replaced in the last two years. The state has mandated that each community replace lead lines within 20 years – but the state is not providing funding.
The city later learned, through Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, that the state is in line to receive $1.3 billion for communities to replace their lead service lines.
Hamtramck is virtually guaranteed a piece of that pie.
Outgoing City Councilmember Carrie Beth Lasley struck out twice in trying to censure Mayor Karen Majewski and City Manager Kathy Angerer.
Lasley, whose term ends on Dec. 31 — the same day that Majewski’s ends — said the two deserved the censures over the handling of a grant from five years ago that went toward city park improvements.
Lasley accused Angerer of “misappropriating” $5,419. She obtained a letter from a Wayne County official, through a Freedom of Information Act request made last August, that outlined the alleged mishandling.
The city was not forced to pay back the amount, but instead the amount was deducted from the city’s yearly Community Development Block Grant.
Mayor Majewski was included in her censure proposal because the mayor did not reveal the incident to the public which, had it been made known, might have prevented Angerer from being appointed as city manager, Lasley said.
Majewski declined to comment on the matter.
City Manager Angerer, however, lashed out at Lasley at the meeting, saying that the accusation was “inaccurate” and “libelous.”
“Nothing criminal happened,” Angerer said, adding that Lasley made “baseless allegations.”
Angerer also noted that Lasley did not give her the courtesy of first asking what happened with the grant.
Hamtramck’s newest, and smallest, park was officially welcomed.
Residents and city and county officials held a dedication for “Salam Peace Park.”
Salam is Arabic for “peace”, so yes, technically it’s called “Peace Peace Park.”
This is no ordinary park. It’s what urban designers call a “pocket” park – which is a single city lot that has been converted into a park, with the goal being to provide a neighborhood with green space for kids and adults.
The lot for the park, located at 2134 Trowbridge St., which is between Lumpkin and St. Aubin, was donated by a resident who wishes to remain anonymous.
Funding for creating the park came from an online crowdfunding effort, which raised $25,000. An additional $22,000 was contributed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation through its Public Spaces Community Places program.
Hamtramck Public Schools students will get an extra week to stay home after their winter holiday break.
But that doesn’t mean they get an extended vacation.
The school district announced it is temporarily returning to at-home virtual learning, from Jan. 3 through Jan. 7.
Students will return to in-person classroom learning on Monday, Jan. 10.
The stay-at-home directive was a result of rising concern over the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
Interim Superintendent Nabil Nagi said that he has been monitoring the Covid cases with the Wayne County Health Department.
The move comes after some teachers raised concerns over Covid at a school board meeting.
One teacher suggested returning to virtual learning because several of her students had talked about travelling over the break, and she feared that would cause a spread of the virus.
Hamtramck veterans unveiled a new memorial for those who died in service.
Veterans, city employees and others gathered in city hall for a dedication ceremony for a new plaque. The plaque bears the names – all 208 of them – of the Hamtramck residents who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
(No Hamtramck residents have died fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq.)
Mark Widsinski, a member of VFW 4162, said the memorial is “not about war, but to freedom.”
The recent shooting deaths at Oxford High School, located north of Detroit, has some local teachers concerned about their safety.
At December’s Hamtramck School Board meeting, several teachers spoke out about their concerns. One common complaint made was that some students were joking about the shooting, where four students died and several others were injured.
Tiffany Stano, a 5th grade teacher at Dickinson West, said that the district needs to adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy when it comes to students joking about violence.
“If it can happen in Oxford, it can happen here,” Stano said.
She added: “We are worn down; we are tired and we are scared.”
A source knowledgeable about security issues confirmed that there is ongoing security training for staff and students.
The district has had occasional threats, but they have been rare, and ultimately proved to be hoaxes.
Well, that’s it for 2021.
We suspect that the new year will be even more interesting with a new political leadership now in place.
Happy New Year, readers!
Posted Dec. 31, 2021