Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed discussed his candidacy and platform to more than 150 students and community members at the Ford School of Public Policy Monday night.
The event, hosted by the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats, allowed students to ask questions and hear the story of the 32-year-old University alum and Rhodes scholar.
As the son of Egyptian immigrants, El-Sayed recognized the unlikeliness of his candidacy. However, he stressed that his background of coming from a biracial family reflects the goals he has for Michigan to become more inclusive.
“This is the American family I grew up in,” El-Sayed said. “We didn’t always agree. The one thing we could agree upon was our future, that we could believe in this society regardless of background.”
Opposite to what some have said about his campaign, El-Sayed said his background and religious differences won’t hinder him, but will hopefully inspire a more diverse government.
“If you’re not going to vote for me because I’m Muslim, you weren’t going to vote for me anyway,” he said.
The idea of more diverse representation was reflected by LSA junior Ali Safawi, also a member of the Michigan Daily edit board, who introduced El-Sayed for the event.
“When you have a name like Ali, you get the feeling the politics isn’t for you, certainly less so than if your name was Bill or Craig,” Safawi said. “So I was very excited to hear that Dr. El-Sayed was running.”
El-Sayed also said his background as the former director of the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness Promotion will have a large impact on his candidacy, as it gave him a more intimate and open look into public health — an issue he intends to stress in his campaign. He said his unconventional background will help Michigan stray from “politics as usual,” which he believes is a mindset that hasn’t been working.
“It’s not just public health that suffers when you run government as a business,” he added. “It’s also things like public education.”
In an interview, El-Sayed said millennials will have a large impact on this campaign, much like the 2016 presidential campaign,
“Nobody has as large a stake in our future as students do,” El-Sayed said. “They have been very involved in my campaign and its message that we have to take back our future.”
In order to mobilize millennials, El-Sayed said more investments need to be made into economies like Detroit’s in order to keep millennials in Michigan. Additionally, he mentioned sustaining the political activism seen by young voters will be difficult — but necessary — to the goals of his campaign. LSA sophomore Lauren Schandevel, public relations chair of College Democrats and a columnist for the Daily, said College Democrats will continue to encourage students to become involved with the gubernatorial race.
“We love being a platform for students who are a huge part of the grassroots movement,” Shandevel said.
Additionally, El-Sayed said Ann Arbor will be important to this campaign, considering its history of producing “people-first policy.” Despite the potential importance of millennials, like University students, in this race, El-Sayed said students need to recognize their privilege if any empathetic work is to be done.
“The economy is largely subsidized by people who often don’t have access to our institutions,” El-Sayed said. “We need to translate economic well-being into helping the lives of people who aren’t as privileged.”
Schandevel said it was his promotion of empathy that was most strikingly different from other candidates.
“When he dealt with the question of crime, saying it was a symptom of poverty was unlike remarks I’ve heard from other politicians,” Schandevel said. “He was so willing to empathize, so willing to really pick at problem. That’s something recent politicians have really been lacking.”
In regards to President Donald Trump’s administration, El-Sayed stressed that a divisive political climate is not conducive to good policy. He said students can start unifying conversations by offering to listen to conservative voters.
“I have family who voted for Trump and they weren’t people who were hateful or xenophobic,” El-Sayed said. “Their interests may not align with us, but if we see a person, we can see across an aisle.”
Though El-Sayed recognized his identity as a cisgender, straight man, he said his ethnic and religious background has made him more sensitive to issues of those of all identities, including women’s rights and transgender people’s rights. He maintained his campaign will be different from those of other politicians who identify similarly.
“We have to believe that government is for the people by the people and that it hasn’t been sold out to corporations or to money,” El-Sayed said. “I’m not running for governor to be governor.”