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Detroiters mourn progressive official

Published Aug 6, 2006 8:01 AM

Maryann Mahaffey being arrested in March 1996
for supporting the Detroit newspaper strike.

Maryann Mahaffey, 81 years old, succumbed to complications from T-cell leukemia on the morning of July 27. She was loved in Detroit’s union halls, block clubs and community meetings and respected everywhere for her tireless, tenacious struggle for poor and working people on local, national and international issues—not only in her work as an elected official, but in her community work.

Mahaffey retired from the Detroit City Council in her longstanding role as president in 2005 when treatment for her illness sapped her energy. Mahaffey had served almost continuously since 1990 as president, a position filled by the candidate with the highest vote total.

A social worker and educator, she won her first term in 1973 in the same election as Coleman A. Young, the first African Amer ican mayor of Detroit. She firmly supported Mayor Young’s affirmative action policies that confronted racism and discrimination in city employment, and took on Detroit police department brutality.

She was a convener of the 2005 National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities, demand ing money for our cities, not for war.

The defining moment of her youth came during World War II when she worked in an Arizona internment camp for Japanese Americans. Her experiences there ignited a passion that she carried for the rest of her life to fight all forms of discrimination and injustice. From pressing for domestic partner benefits to opposing the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars, from fighting for equality for women to defending welfare, water and voting rights, she helped give these and other struggles voice at the council table and in the streets.

In the critical period for the Cuban Revolution after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Maryann Mahaffey traveled to Cuba along with another councilperson. When the Pastors for Peace Caravan got held up at the border, she used her elected position to intervene. As recently as this past April, she helped launch the Michigan Campaign to Free the Cuban Five.

In June, she attended the community “meet and greet” for the Venezuelan ambassador—the result of an invitation issued by the Detroit City Council last September.

A few weeks before her death, she joined an anti-war demonstration in suburban Ferndale, defending the right to carry “honk against the war” signs after police issued tickets to silence that form of protest.

Speaking of her arrest on the strong Detroit newspaper strike picket line in 1996 and her staunch refusal to talk with reporters from the scab papers, she stressed, “If you stand for something, then do it. And if there is a penalty, then pay it. Otherwise, how will people know you’re really serious?”

She is survived by her life partner, Hy Dooha; her daughter, Susan Dooha; and a city that won’t be the same without her.