Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed spoke to an auditorium full of students Thursday night at the Ford School of Public Policy about what he hopes to achieve as governor. The event was part of a town hall hosted by the University of Michigan chapter of College Democrats.
The 32-year-old Democrat announced his candidacy for Michigan governor in February, and has since gained support from around the state, raising over $1 million by July for his campaign.
El-Sayed opened the town hall by speaking broadly about the issues he hopes to tackle as governor, including protecting the Great Lakes and the environment, fixing infrastructure, bringing clean water back to Flint and boosting wages.
“If you look at where we are right now, our governor has told us that government is just another business,” El-Sayed said. “And when you poison 9,000 kids, you write it off as a liability. It’s been 1,200 days since the kids in Flint have had access to the kind of water that they can rely on from their taps.”
LSA sophomore Medha Krishen, a first generation immigrant, said she relates to El-Sayed and sees a big difference between him and other candidates she has seen speak.
“I’ve never heard him speak before," Krishen said. "I’ve seen other (candidates) who are running right now and have heard them speak and hearing him, there was a huge contrast. Just the way that he commands attention, the way he’s professional.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan appointed El-Sayed as health commissioner in Detroit, after he spent some time as an associate professor at Columbia. El-Sayed detailed parts of his work there, including providing free glasses to the students in Detroit city schools.
“I was rebuilding a health department that had been shut down when our city was facing emergency management takeover,” El-Sayed said. “I had to ask myself two questions: Why is this happening and what should we do about it?”
Public Policy senior Rowan Conybeare, chair of College Democrats, said she was happy to have the chance to see gubernatorial candidates speak on campus and hopes that Democrats can win back positions in 2018.
“Trump won Michigan and people consider it a red state now but we want to take that back and we want to put a Democrat in the governor's mansion,” she said. “We want Democrats to win state House and Senate seats.”
The town hall opened up for questions, where students and community members asked about issues such as infrastructure and corruption and how El-Sayed plans to combat racial injustice, labor unions and gun control.
“Unfortunately in this state, labor unions have been systematically marginalized and attacked,” El-Sayed said. “Unions … have been on the front lines on negotiating what the future of work looks like for a very long time.”
On the issue of gun control, El-Sayed emphasized the importance of working with Republicans to find common ground, further emphasizing the importance of bipartisanship in other areas as well.
“Number one: We have to make sure that there are pretty extensive background checks in circumstances where anybody can … get access to a gun,” El-Sayed said. “That’s not taking a gun out of someone’s hands, it’s just making sure we’re not putting guns in the hands of people who want to do really evil things.”
Following the event, in an interview with the Daily, El-Sayed said the campaign is going well so far, as he builds support for what he calls a “movement.” While he has been gaining a great deal of support, he isn’t worried about how he’s doing relative to other candidates.
“I don’t really pay attention to the other folks in the race,” El-Sayed said. “You know when you run in a race, you pay attention to look at where everybody else is. You just run your fastest. So we’re running out fastest.”