UPDATE: I failed to mention in this post the full degree of diversification that will likely occur on the county board in November following Tuesday’s primary results. Democrats Antoinette Wallace of Mount Clemens and Michelle Nard of Warren, became the first (believed to be the first) two African-American females to win a primary election for the Board of Commissioners. Wallace defeated two well-funded competitors in the Mount Clemens area and Nard bested an incumbent Democrat, Andrey Duzyj, in south Warren.
Meanwhile, Mai Xiong of Warren, who won a primary in the Center Line area, is the first Asian-American to win a primary for a commissioner’s seat (more on Mai below). All three are running in staunchly Democratic areas in the fall and will be the favorites in November. If that comes to pass, they will serve as the first black females and the first Asian (male or female) on the 13-member county board, which is currently an all-white body.
Tuesday’s primary election in Macomb County produced some surprising results as several veteran officials went down to defeat while a newcomer who was victorious, despite long odds, is on the verge of becoming the first elected official in Michigan from Southeast Asia’s ethnic Hmong community.
Mai Xiong (pictured above), who was born in an Asian refugee camp, somehow defeated Commissioner Marv Sauger, a fixture in Center Line politics and a 22-year veteran of the county board, in Macomb’s heavily Democratic, Center Line-based 2nd District in Tuesday’s Dem primary. That election outcome could represent a turning point amid Macomb County’s growing, increasingly diverse ethnic population.
If elected in November, where she faces a relatively unknown candidate, Republican Peter Fuciarelli, Mai would be the first Hmong-American to win office in Michigan and the first Asian-American to serve on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners.
As for other longtime officials who went down to defeat on Tuesday, in addition to Sauger Andrey Duzyz, a 12-year veteran of the county board, was bested by Michelle Nard in south Warren’s 1st District.
At the local level, three-term Washington Township Supervisor Dan O’Leary, who has been tangled in recent local controversies, was dispatched by GOP primary voters in favor of township Trustee Sebastian Previti. Ironically, O’Leary has been portrayed as one of the very few good guys in Macomb County’s ongoing corruption scandals as he alerted federal authorities after receiving a bribe offer.
In neighboring Ray Township, Charles Bohm, who served 14 years as township supervisor and the last four years as a township board trustee, was rejected in the Republican primary in favor of Doug Stier, who chose to shift from township treasurer to run for one of two trustee seats.
And in Clinton Township, Trustee Ken Pearl, a Democratic Party insider for the past dozen years, was booted in Tuesday’s primary as fellow Dem incumbents breezed to likely re-election in this township’s longtime Democratic bastion.
As for Mai, 35, her story presents perhaps the most impressive – even joyful – outcome of the primary election anywhere across the state. A first-time candidate, she represents an American success story.
Mai was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her family fled communist oppression in Laos. The Hmong population lives in the mountains of Laos and Thailand and in the chaotic aftermath of the Vietnam War a surprising number fled to the American Midwest, including Michigan and specifically Warren.
At age 3, Mai and her family received entrance to the U.S. After earning a degree from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, she established an online blog that offered “budget conscious moms like me” how to shop smart and save money on basic household items.
In 2017, as a mother of four young children, Mai established a startup business in her home creating and sewing a clothing line for women. She later established a storefront business in Warren on 12 Mile, Mai & Co., to boost her company’s sales.
In her bio material, Mai explains how she addresses questions from voters who wonder where she is from.
“My response is usually, ‘I’m from Metro Detroit,’ because some people assume that if you’re a person of color, surely you must not be from America. It’s always been a hard question for me to answer, because I was never born a Thai citizen and as a descendant of Hmong parents who fled a communist Laos, I never felt like those places were my home.
“I am so grateful for the (U.S.) immigration system that was put in place for refugees fleeing war like my family and I. I am fortunate to have received a public education, be among the first to graduate college and as I think about my own children, I want them to have the best future that will help them succeed in life too”
Needless to say, a woman with a name such as Mai Xiong had no prayer of being elected to office in stolid Macomb County just 10 years ago. So, bravo to Macomb voters for taking a major step to turn the corner and make county history.