By Ashourina Slewo and Vanessa Denha Garmo
When U.S. Representative Dave Trott made the surprising announcement that he would not run for another term in Congress for the 11th District, Democrats and Republicans began eying the open seat as opportunity and for State Representative Klint Kesto that became an opportunity to make history. If elected, he will be the first Chaldean ever elected to Congress. His campaign is garnering not just local attention but the interest of Chaldeans around the country. We asked all the candidates in the race why should the Chaldean community support him or her in this race. We share the answers from those who responded on time for the July printed issue.
The 11th District covers Auburn Hills, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Canton Township, Clawson, Commerce Township, Farmington, Highland Township, Lake Angelus, Livonia, Lyon Township, Milford Township, Northville/Northville Township, Novi/Novi Township, Plymouth/ Plymouth Township, Rochester Hills, South Lyon, Troy, Walled Lake, Waterford, West Bloomfield, White Lake Township and Wixom.
We posed the following question to each candidate, why should the Chaldean community support you?
Tim Greimel is the grandson of immigrants who came to Michigan in search of economic opportunity and security for their family. His grandfather was a successful small businessman who opened a small tool and die shop. Another was a proud UAW member at Timken-Detroit Axle Company. His grandparents were able to help their kids go to college.
Greimel’s mom became a teacher and his father an architect. Native of Oakland County, has held office as a Rochester school board member, county commissioner and, since 2012, as a member of the state House of Representatives. Greimel was formerly the House minority leader.
In 2014, Greimel helped push a successful effort to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour. He was also part of the bipartisan coalition that reached a “grand bargain” to provide $195 million to Detroit as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.
Suneel Gupta has been hailed as “The New Face of Innovation” by the New York Stock Exchange magazine. Gupta’s experiences in technology, healthcare, and business uniquely qualify him to fight for better jobs, better wages, and better skills for our working families.
Gupta’s Michigan roots date back to 1967, when his mom became Ford Motor Company’s first female engineer. She and his father worked in the auto industry for over 30 years, until April 4, 2001, the day they were both laid off. He was recruited to Groupon, which was co-founded by Michiganders, to serve as the young startup’s first Vice President of Product Development.
There Gupta helped create thousands of good-paying American jobs and serve over 1 million Michigan customers, while driving millions of dollars of revenue into small businesses around the country. In 2012, Gupta’s brother - Dr. Sanjay Gupta - helped him start Rise, a healthcare company that uses technology to shrink the cost of quality health care. After the startup served over 1,000 patients, First Lady Michelle Obama asked Rise to be her team’s official technology partner. Through this public-private partnership, together they delivered health coaching to lower-income areas of the country.
In 2016, Michael Bloomberg convened a bi-partisan commission on the Future of Work, and Gupta was asked to join and bring Rise’s lessons to policymakers. Gupta has led and lectured on Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan and been named a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University.
“The Chaldean community should get behind my race for the same reason everyone is supporting me for Congress right now. We have a lot more in common than we give ourselves credit for. We all the same things. We want good jobs that pay the bills. We want a good healthcare system. We want our kids to do well and have a give education. I am fighting for these values. When I got door-to-door, I am making this promise to fight for those values and those are the same values shared in the Chaldean community.”
As Detroit’s Director of Immigrant Affairs, Fayrouz Saad worked with Mayor Mike Duggan to put inclusive values and small business development at the heart of the city’s recovery. Prior to her time in the Detroit Mayor’s Office, Saad served as an appointee at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama. There, she helped coordinate the Gulf Coast recovery and developed new standards for fair, effective community policing. Before that, she spent three years learning to craft legislation and deliver constituent services as District Director and Legislative Aide to State Representative Gino Polidori and began her career in 2004 as an organizer right here in Michigan’s 11th District. The Northville resident is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and a graduate of Michigan public schools.
During her time in the Detroit Mayor’s Office, Saad worked closely with the Chaldean community. “As Director of Immigrant Affairs, I traveled across Southeast Michigan in the wake of the 2016 election, working to educate and organize targeted communities in response to overzealous immigration enforcement,” explained Saad. “The Chaldean community, despite assurances from then-candidate Trump, found itself a top target for ICE raids in the region. This was especially concerning given that (if deported) many would be returning to an Iraq where they’d face anti-Christian violence.”
“I also know first-hand the community’s work ethic and community spirit, in part because of my economic development work in and around Detroit, and in part because of how similar it is to my own parents’ story: fleeing Lebanon in the 1970s, they arrived in Michigan with nothing, and built a successful family business (Saad Wholesale Meats). When we welcome and support immigrant-owned small businesses, it grows the wider local economy, grows the tax base to support schools and other vital services, and strengthens communities. In Congress, I look forward to being a friend and advocate for Michigan’s Chaldean community, and to celebrating its successes for decades to come.
During the Great Recession, Haley Stevens served as chief of staff on the Auto Task Force inside of the U.S. Treasury Department, the team responsible for returning the auto industry to financial stability and saving 211,000 Michigan jobs. Most recently, she led a national workforce development program and created the country’s first online training program for digital manufacturing. Earlier in her career, Stevens played a key role in setting up two federal offices critical in creating new Michigan jobs: The Office of Recovery for Automotive Communities and Workers, and the White House Office for Manufacturing Policy.
Stevens believes her work as an economic development professional puts her in a position to advocate for small business owners in and outside of the Chaldean community. “I am focused on 21st century job training and I have long admired the Chaldean community, their leadership and in our district, in particular, Martin Manna’s work and the chamber fostering business creation,” she explained. “That’s what I want to do from the nation’s capital, which is support people, support small business owners and support our students.”
In addition to fostering business growth and innovation, Stevens stands by the community as they continue to fight deportations. “I was on the phone with members of the Chaldean community when the ICE raids were taking place,” she explained. “It’s something that is really serious to me.”
As of print day, June 22, the following candidates have not given statements: Greimel.
State Rep. Klint Kesto, also among those who have raised the most money, is a former criminal prosecutor who took on violent crime, consumer fraud, domestic violence and political corruption. Kesto previously owned and operated a family-owned small business. Kesto is a conservative focused on reforming the welfare system, reform our unconstitutional civil asset for laws, protect religious freedom, and rein in unelected bureaucrats who cripple small businesses and destroy jobs. Kesto is a pro-life activist and “defends the unborn child’s right to a life.” If elected, his win will be an historic one as the first Chaldean elected to U.S. Congress.
Kesto set his sights on the U.S. House of Representatives as he has termed out and cannot run for the Michigan House of Representatives.
Previously Kesto has worked for the United States Department of Energy and the United States Department of Justice. Even as he pursues this new political endeavor, Kesto remains rooted in his own community as he is a board member of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Chaldean American Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the Michigan State Bar, and a member of the Greater West Bloomfield Republicans.
As a member of the Chaldean community, Kesto believes he can bring to the Chaldean community here what has been lacking in the Middle East.
“I will work to protect: Peace, Freedom and Opportunity,” he said. “Those values are virtually gone from the Middle East, but they are alive and well here, and it is our duty as Americans to protect, preserve, and spread those values.”
Representative Kesto calls on the community for support as the primary approaches, “…this will be a tight race and every vote is going to count.”
Kerry Bentivolio was a 2016 independent candidate who sought election to the U.S. House to represent the 11th Congressional District of Michigan. Garnering less than five percent of the vote, Bentivolio ultimately lost.
Bentivolio is a former teacher and Army veteran. Bentivolio is geared towards rooting corruption out of Capitol Hill as several politicians are willing to “spend millions of their own money to purchase a two-year seat in Congress that pays only a fraction of what they’re investing to win the seat.”
Bentivolio is a lifelong Michigan resident and continues to reside in Milford with his wife and “knows the needs and desires of his fellow citizens.”
Businesswoman Lena Epstein is a millennial and third-generation co-owner of Southfield-based Vesco Oil Corporation, one of the largest distributors of automotive and industrial lubricants and supporting services in the country. She loaned her campaign nearly $1 million and with $1.5 million total, is among the highest fundraising candidates. Epstein was a co-chair of Trump’s 2016 Michigan campaign and has tied herself to the president’s agenda.
Epstein is involved in local, state and national organizations supporting a number of causes and initiatives. Appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, Epstein also serves on Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board. Epstein serves on several other boards, including the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
As a Jew, Epstein believes there are several similarities between the Chaldean community and her own community. “I sincerely hope the Chaldean community considers supporting me because of our shared values and experiences,” she said. “As a Jew, I am oft amazed at the similarities between our two peoples.”
“I want to empower you to exercise your free will. Like many in the Chaldean community, I am a business owner. I know how to run my business. The government does not. I will always stand up for small business owners and their right to make their own business decisions without undue government intrusion,” explained Epstein.
State Sen. Mike Kowall is the choice of the local Republican establishment according to the ‘’Detroit Free Press’’ and would likely be ideologically similar to Trott, one of the more moderate House Republicans. He is the only Republican to support a pathway to citizenship for children who entered the country without legal permission that is separate from President Trump’s border wall and legal immigration limitation proposals.
A lifelong Michigan resident, Senator Mike Kowall is a member of several committees, including the Commerce Committee and the Oversight Committee, the Government Operations, Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Regulatory Reform, and Michigan Capitol committees.
According to news reporters, former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski is third in fundraising for the 11th District race. Former state Rep. Andrew (Rocky) Raczkowski is a businessman with a long tenure in the U.S. Army Reserves, has served in the state legislature representing a Farmington Hills-based district between 1997 and 2003. A Republican, he lost a close bid to unseat then-U.S. Rep. Gary Peters in 2010. Since 2002, he has unsuccessfully run for U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and state Senate.
Raczkowski earned his BA in Political Science and Psychology from Eastern Michigan University, a Masters in Administration from Central Michigan University, and a Juris Doctorate from Michigan State University College of Law.
As of print day, June 22, the following candidates have not given statements: Bentivolio, Senator Kowall, and Raczkowski.