Two Chaldeans from opposing parties vying for 30th District seat

By Samer Hijazi
STERLING HEIGHTS -This year a noticeable change has occurred within the Chaldean community like never before. Leading up to election season, many have pointed out the large number of Chaldean individuals who are seeking positions such as State Rep or City Judge, a drastic change from previous years when even one Chaldean individual seeking an office position was a rarity. But now, these individuals have garnered plenty of support and are stating it’s time for the Chaldean community to have a voice in politics.

Shallal, a Republican
One area where this is occurring is in District 30 for the State Rep candidacy, which covers areas such as Sterling Heights, Utica and parts of Shelby Township. Two Chaldean candidates could potentially go head-to-head in November’s general election for the seat, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, should they get past the primaries on Aug. 7. They both recently spoke to The Arab American News about their campaigns and why they feel the Chaldean community has decided to get involved.

The Republican candidate is Michael Shallal. This isn’t the first race for the 32-year-old, he previously ran for the State Rep. seat in 2010 and was notable for being one of the first Chaldeans to seek office in the area. He says that he is happy that the community is finally starting to pay attention to politics.

“Our people in the district have never really paid attention to politics. They would only cast their vote in the general presidential elections and that would be it. This was actually part of my message during my last campaign, stressing on the importance of the Chaldean involvement. Now there are Chaldeans running all over the area. I’m glad our message did not end up going to waste,” Shallal stated.

Shallal has plenty of credentials for the job. Born in Iraq, Shallal came to the U.S when he was 20, and within a two-year period he had already landed a job with the Department of Defense as a civilian member of the Intelligence Community, Homeland Security, Department of State and the Department of Defense. Being fluent in several languages, he was also assigned to a mission in the Middle East in 2002. He says his achievements all the more prove that as an American, anyone can strive for more.

“I see the way we take opportunities here for granted and we don’t realize what we have until we lose it. We just don’t see all these advantages that we have. There were all these opportunities for me to accelerate and I sought it out. I want to bring some common sense and boldness to the position,” Shallal stated. “People always insinuate that I should be politically correct, but I believe that respectful boldness has more power.”

Some of Shallal’s major platform items including education and transparency. He says that he wants to change the trend of budget cuts in local schools because it limits both the student and teacher’s potential. He also says that he wants more transparency with the state budget and easier access for citizens to view it through the Internet, a goal Governor Rick Snyder has stated he would like to work on.

But despite being a Chaldean, Shallal says that he isn’t just running for his community. He wants to represent everybody in the district. Over the years, through networking he has been able to form an excellent relationship with the Arab community as well.

“I have a large connection with the Arab community. It’s always a blessing to know a lot of people and get moral support and encouragement from outside of your own community. It keeps me motivated and allows me to continue moving forward. I really appreciate it,” Shallal noted.

Najjar, a Democrat

Shallal’s Democratic opponent, Nick Najjar also has a large list of credentials to make him qualified for the position. Najjar, also born in Iraq, came to the U.S in 1983. He would eventually become a successful real estate agent, which opened a window for him to become politically involved. While living in Troy, his real estate experience allowed him to get appointed on the City of Troy’s Downtown Development Authority.

When he moved to Sterling Heights in 1998, his political involvement accelerated even more. He served on the Sterling Heights Planning Commission and was eventually appointed as an advisor to Governor Jennifer Granholm. He also graduated from the FBI citizen’s academy in 2003. He says he’s running for the position because his experience gives him the knowledge and ability to do so.
“I have been involved in politics in every level…local, state and federal. It’s time for us to not just be followers but to lead. I don’t just support the Chaldean community but I encourage all Middle Eastern communities, whether Lebanese, Iranian or Macedonian…you need to be a voice for everybody, not just one community,” Najjar stated.
Najjar also noted the sudden surge of Chaldeans getting politically involved this time around.
“The Chaldean community came to a point where they found out they were behind. Most Chaldeans were business store owners and that was it. But this new generation of Chaldeans are now coming out as attorneys, doctors and engineers. I think it’s come to the point where we all feel it’s time for our voices to be heard,” Najjar added. “But we don’t just need to have a voice for Chaldeans, we need to have a voice for the Middle East in general.”
Najjar’s platform items include safety and job creation. Education is also on his platform.  He says that technology within the school districts is getting old, classrooms are getting more cramped and teachers need better training. None of these issues can get accomplished if party lines are drawn and elected officials don’t learn how to work together, he says.
“Working with both sides of the aisle is something that would greatly benefit not just the community, but the entire state,” Najjar stated. “If I have to extend my hand to the other side in order to see an outcome or a benefit, then I am more than willing to do it.”
The two men aren’t the only two Chaldeans facing each other for the same position. Over at the 48th District Court in West Bloomfield, two Chaldean women are also going head-to-head for a city judge position. Both Judge Diane D’Agostini and Judge Sahera Gumma are seeking to serve a third term at the district.