Passion for public service inspires new Dearborn City Council president
By Saira Sumbal, Bizmagazine Staff Writer
Susan Dabaja starts her day at 7 a.m., packing school lunches for her three children. Her day is spent in courtrooms and her law practice before she makes her way to the Dearborn City Hall, where she serves as council president.
Dabaja, 37, is serving her first term. She is the first Arab American to become council president in Dearborn, ousting Tom Tafelski by 32 votes. Also for the first time, a majority of council members are Arab Americans – four out of seven. Nearly a third of Dearborn’s population of 97,000 identifies as having Arab heritage.
Three months after winning the election, she still recalls the faces of residents she met during her campaign. Those images remind her of the issues the city is facing as the City Council begins debating the 2015 budget this month. The city must balance its budget at a time when state funding and tax revenues continue to shrink.
“Dearborn is known for its services,” Dabaja said. “We have to spend wisely and be fiscally responsible.”
Crunching numbers, addressing residents’ concerns and being a full-time attorney, a wife and a mother is not an easy task. Dabaja said her inspiration stems from her love and passion for the city and serving the community.
Dabaja grew up in the city’s south end. Her parents came to Dearborn in the 1970s from Lebanon, fleeing unrest in the Middle East. They worked hard and instilled in their children the importance of education and giving back to the community.
A graduate of Edsel Ford High school, Dabaja received her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She earned her law degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. She and her husband, Majid, who is a real estate investor, have three children, Claudia, 14, Joel, 10, and Adam, 7.
When District Court Judge Sam Salamey ran for office in 2012, Dabaja walked the neighborhoods campaigning for him and talking to the residents. Hearing their concerns and stories inspired her to run for office in 2013.
“I was in shock,” said Dabaja.
Mallak Beydoun, Dabaja’s campaign manager, said Dabaja won because she connected with voters. “Her life relates to many Americans,” she said.
Dabaja said she considers her win as support from all voters in the city, and that she is proud of the confidence residents have given her and the rest of the council.
“Dearborn has so much to offer,” Dabaja said.
Dearborn proposed 2015 budget:
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. is scheduled to present the 2015 budget to the City Council Tuesday, and a vote could take place in May. The proposed budget includes funding for police, fire, garbage, street cleanup and an array of services and it will be available to the public by April 18 online. The city is also holding workshops for residents to discuss specific budget topics.