A community activist since preschool, LSA senior Yousef Rabhi is no stranger to door-to-door campaigning. Having canvassed for current city council members Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) and Steven Kunselman (D–Ward 3) in heavily student-populated neighborhoods, Rabhi decided to throw his hat into the ring this year.
The 21-year-old is vying for a spot on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners — a group whose present members range in age from late 30s to early 60s. Rabhi, who is running as a Democrat in the County’s 11th district, will face three challengers in tomorrow’s state primary elections.
Among his challengers are Mike Fried, a former chief administrator for the Wayne County Prosectuor’s office, and LuAnne Bullington, a former computer services worker, according to an article in AnnArbor.com.
Despite the competition, Rabhi said he’s very optimistic about his chances.
“All signs point toward victory,” Rabhi said in an interview with The Michigan Daily on Saturday.
Since announcing his candidacy in January, Rabhi said he has built up a considerable base of support among local politicians and organizations.
In addition to the public endorsements of three current city council members — Anglin, Kunselman and Tony Derezinski (D–Ward 2) — Rabhi has the support of Conan Smith, a current member of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. And recently, the Michigan Democratic Party’s LGBT Caucus publicly backed his campaign.
But according to Rabhi, his greatest support comes from what he calls “face time” — going door-to-door through every neighborhood in the 11th district and talking to prospective voters.
“At the end of the day, the best way I’ve been engaging people is just knocking on their doors,” Rabhi said. “It’s the way you make politics and democracy accessible. I want to engage the people in the democratic process.”
Rabhi said he began going door-to-door in late April, which enabled him to reach more houses than if he had started closer to the primary. Starting early was important, he said, in a district of about 25,000 registered voters.
“At the beginning a lot of people were telling me, ‘You’re the first county commissioner candidate that’s ever knocked on my door,’ ” Rabhi said.
Rabhi said his campaign efforts have only intensified since April.
The 11th district encompasses a large part of the University’s community, including South Quadrangle, West Quadrangle and predominantly student-filled neighborhoods around Oakland Avenue and Fifth Avenue.
Rabhi said he makes a point of hitting student-heavy areas even though the student population deflates over the summer.
“I think it’s important to engage all the voters, not just the people who are usual voters,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a waste of time.”
Still campaigning in the days leading up to the primary election, Rabhi left flyers on Saturday afternoon for residences on Fifth Avenue and William Street, making notes to himself to return later to houses in which no one answered his knocks.
Rabhi did get the chance for direct interaction and the opportunity to answer questions about his platform at some houses along his campaign path.
At the South Division home of Dylan Manna — a PhD candidate in physics at the University — Rabhi launched into a conversation about important issues facing the county.
Manna asked Rabhi how he stood out from his opponents.
“What I’m bringing to the table is energy and enthusiasm to get the job done,” Rabhi replied. He then began talking about his plans to continue funding vital human services while encouraging sustainability.
“Sustainability — environmental, economic and social. That’s what sets me apart,” Rabhi said.
By the end of their brief conversation, Manna said he had confidence in Rabhi’s campaign.
“I like the fact that you’re young and enthusiastic,” Manna said. “You’ve got my vote.”
Rabhi said he doesn’t want his age to be a factor in the race, adding that when he first considered running, he thought his age would work against him.
“I don’t like to use age to distinguish myself from my opponents,” he said. “When I started, I was afraid of the fact that I was a student. I was afraid that people would not accept that.”
After comments like Manna’s, though, Rabhi said he’s begun to realize that his age might actually work in his favor.
“I’ve realized that what I’m bringing to the table is new and different,” he said. “But that’s my strength.”