For LSA senior Yousef Rabhi the start of his political career was a little unorthodox.
It wasn’t until after he was arrested for participating in a protest in University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office during his freshman year that Rabhi — a candidate for Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners — decided to formally get involved in politics.
Rabhi and 11 members of the campus group Students Organizing for Labor and Equality staged a sit-in in Coleman’s office demanding that the University strengthen its code of conduct for apparel suppliers, according to an April 3, 2007 article published in The Michigan Daily.
The protesters were arrested after refusing to leave the building when it closed, the Daily article reported.
“Getting arrested — it wasn’t really a wakeup call, but afterward I realized there were other ways to affect change. Politics is one of them,” Rabhi said.
Rabhi plans to formally enter the race for commissioner of Washtenaw County’s 11th district. He formed a campaign committee last Tuesday and is working to collect signatures to ensure his place on the ballot.
The 21-year-old Rabhi is by far the youngest candidate for the post, which is responsible for all county services. All the other candidates range in age from late 30’s to early 60’s.
Rabhi, who will run as a Democrat, said his interest in the position stems from years of political involvement.
After his freshman year, Rabhi started getting involved in local political campaigns, including that of family friend and Ann Arbor City Councilmember Steve Kunselman (D–Ward 3), who was elected to city council last November. Rabhi said his work on the campaign centered around student outreach, since Ward 3 has a large University student population.
In the weeks leading up to last August’s primary, Rabhi went door-to-door through student neighborhoods promoting Kunselman’s campaign. He also distributed campaign literature and put up yard signs.
On the day of the primary election, Rabhi said he returned to those same neighborhoods and encouraged students to vote.
“I was like, ‘Hey guys, let’s go out and vote,’ and we all went out and voted,” Rabhi said.
According to an article published in the Daily on Aug. 4, Kunselman won the primary election by six votes.
Kunselman said Rabhi’s efforts helped him secure the primary win.
“I feel pretty confident in saying that it was the student vote that tipped the scale,” Kunselman said. “Yousef gave me a presence in that neighborhood that I had not had in previous races.”
Acknowledging the close race, Rabhi said, “I walked at least six people to the poles to vote.”
Now Rabhi is concentrating on his own campaign as he prepares for the primary election on August 3.
The Board of Commissioners is in charge of allocating state funding to cities and townships and setting budgets for the county.
“What the board is responsible for doing is making sure state money gets to the right places,” Rabhi said.
Rabhi said he’s running to help defend services the county provides for disadvantaged citizens— like homeless shelters, mental health care programs, and healthcare packages for the working poor.
“People who are homeless in the streets, don’t have healthcare, are mentally ill — these people need to be taken care of,” Rabhi said.
He added that, if elected, he’ll search for ways to retain those service in the midst of “hard economic times.”
As Rabhi prepares his campaign, he’s relying on the same demographic that Councilmember Kunselman to victory — University students.
“I need students to vote,” Rabhi said.
The 11th District encompasses a large part of the University community, including East Quad, West Quad and South Quad, and the student-heavy neighborhood on Oakland Avenue.
Rabhi said he plans to reach out to those students and explain how the county’s decisions impact them.
Though most students won’t be here for the August primary, Rabhi said he plans to encourage them to vote absentee and wants to serve as a voice for students on the Board. If elected, he plans to hold regular office hours at coffee shops like Café Ambrosia or Espresso Royale.
“If I’m elected, I’m going to count on students to be constantly involved,” Rabhi said.