DEARBORN - Folks in these parts are used to all the big city political drama coming from Detroit. Or even Warren.
But the most hotly-contested mayor’s race in southeastern Michigan this year is in Dearborn, where long-time incumbent Jack O’Reilly is trying to hold off City Council President Pro Tem Tom Tafelski.
Both candidates say they are victims of dirty politics. But only one admits to being involved in a transaction that he acknowledges showed poor judgment.
That’s O’Reilly, who purchased a 2008 Ford Escape from Hassan Saab, a long-time family friend behind a failed downtown development deal. Saab sold the SUV to O’Reilly at a slight loss in January 2016 - six months after the city approved his plan to build a Noodles & Co. restaurant at the corner of Michigan and Howard.
O’Reilly says he had nothing to do with approving the deal.
“He never asked me to do anything and I never did anything,” O’Reilly told Fox 2. “That's absolute fact.”
In June 2016 - with the deal on the verge of collapsing - one of Saab’s partners met with Tafelski and fellow councilman Mike Sareini to see how they might salvage their plan and avoid losing $130,000 they had already invested in it.
Tafelski secretly recorded the meeting, in which Saab’s partner, Imad Soueid, claimed that Saab bought a car for the mayor’s son.
Saab did not return messages seeking comment. O’Reilly says the deal for the Escape had nothing to do with the downtown development deal. He also says he wishes he had not bought the car from Saab because it creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Tafelski, who says he recorded the meeting with Soueid because he was afraid of a set-up, says O’Reilly should not have bought a car from someone who has a contract with the city.
An anonymous flyer mailed this summer to Dearborn residents questioned whether Tafelski is fit to serve as mayor.
It claimed he harassed a senior citizen, impersonated a police officer and used a racial epithet. Tafelski denies all of the allegations.
“This is all to smear my character,” Tafelski told Fox 2.
Voters will choose between the two candidates on Nov. 7.
In the meantime, the deal to build Noodles & Co. - or any business - to the corner of Michigan and Howard is all but dead and the land is as empty as it was the day the city demolished the former Brothers Tuxedo building.
To hear an excerpt from the secret recording and our interviews with O’Reilly and Tafelski discussing these matters in detail, check out our latest Problem Solver investigation.
Contact M.L. Elrick at 248-552-5261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.