Detroiters mourn progressive official
Published Aug 6, 2006 8:01 AM
Maryann Mahaffey being arrested in March 1996
for supporting the Detroit
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.
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
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
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
She is survived by her life partner, Hy Dooha; her
daughter, Susan Dooha; and a city that won’t be the same without her.
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