Traverse City News and Events

Young, Muslim, and Running For Governor: El-Sayed To Visit Traverse City

By Luke Haase | April 16, 2018

Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed, 33, would be Michigan’s youngest governor – and the nation’s first Muslim one. He will visit Traverse City April 19 for a town hall meeting at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa. Northern Express, sister publication of The Ticker, conducted an extended interview with El-Sayed; here is an excerpt of that interview

El-Sayed is Michigan born, attended University of Michigan, later becoming a Rhodes Scholar, earning a doctorate from Oxford and a medical degree from Columbia. At 30, he was named director of Detroit's Health Department after it was privatized during the city's bankruptcy.

We caught up with him by phone from his office in downtown Detroit.

Express: First, please give us an update on the potential court ruling on your eligibility as a candidate [Questions have surfaced about his eligibility after Bridge Magazine reported he was registered to vote in New York from October 2012 through March 2015. Michigan’s Constitution requires any candidate for governor to be a registered elector in the state at least four years prior to the election. Secretary of State records show El-Sayed was “continuously registered to vote in Michigan since 2003,” and El-Sayed has petitioned a judge to rule on the matter.]
El-Sayed: We are 100 percent eligible and we are going to do whatever it takes to prove that all it was was a political attack. It’s people who are my opponents doing opposition research, and the goal was to spread this in the court of public opinion. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t know I was eligible.

Express: What is the appetite among voters for a new course, given that jobs and wages are at near all-time highs and, partisanship aside, Governor Snyder appears to remain fairly popular?
El-Sayed:
I don’t know that I agree. The last I looked he was one of the least popular governors in the country. And unemployment is a money statistic. The truth is middle class wages are stagnant, and that’s the experience of most Michiganders. Sure, they can find a gig with no job security and virtually no benefits. And then we are the epicenter of water disasters [with Flint], and Bernie Sanders won in the primary here and then by the slimmest of margins so did Trump. So I think there’s a huge appetite for change. Anything [positive] Snyder did had more to do with Obama’s national policy than anything he did, and he fundamentally robbed our self-determination with his emergency management law. He made key cuts at the union movement, which has for so long delivered a standard of living and quality of life to workers. I think the Michiganders I see are really frustrated with where we are and want real change. If you look at where we are versus the absolute overall expenditures, we spend the second most on corporate subsidies; They say they’ll bring jobs here and they don’t. And then we cut revenue on things like schools and infrastructure. The for-profit, market oriented approach has failed us.

Express: What do you know about Traverse City and the Grand Traverse region?
El-Sayed: Traverse City is an incredible city and a beautiful place. I know like all places it has its challenges; it tends to be a high-quality vacation place, but almost all of the local economy is seasonal. There’s also a lot of agricultural processing that happens there. I know there are a lot of opportunities for growth.

Express: I’m sure you’ve been asked so many times, but how is it going, recognizing all the barriers you’re no doubt facing? I mean, Grand Traverse County is some 97 percent white, and many of the voters you’ll meet have never even met a Muslim.
El-Sayed: I’ve been all over the state now, and wherever I’ve gone, I’ve gotten a really warm reception. There are a few bad apples that try to speak for everybody, and some want to see my faith as an issue. But the vast majority of people don't care how you pray, they care what you pray for. And I pray for my daughter, by wife and parents, my parents in-law, our state, country, for peace, for justice…those are the things that people all over the state pray for. Turns out if you’re willing to listen and speak to empower peoples lives, people are interested to hear what you have to say. We are a lot more similar than different, and people are looking for leaders who believe in them, who are forthright, who care about a more just and sustainable world. That’s been our conversation, and I’m thankful for the hospitality and generosity I’ve experienced around the state.

Express: The latest polls show you’re in third place on the Democratic side. Gretchen Whitmer has now been endorsed by the UAW. What’s the roadmap for you winning this nomination and election?
El-Sayed: I win the race because we are the closest on ideals and ideas and polices. Because we inspire young people and people of color. I win the race because I’m showing a different look: I’m not taking corporate tax money and I’m not a millionaire trying to buy the election; I am a public servant trying to better peoples’ lives. I win the race because people in Michigan are interested in retaking their future. And it’s like “March Madness”: there’s the season, and then a lot happens in the actual tournament. We aren’t even in the tournament yet. And frankly, many who will vote for me aren’t showing up in a poll. The only poll I care about is the seventh of August and then the first Tuesday in November.

Click here to read the entire interview.

Photo courtesy of POLITICO.

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