On the same day that he unveiled an urban agenda that highlights public transportation, affordable housing, and criminal justice reform, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed came under fire in what he has described as a “birther”-like campaign questioning his eligibility to run for governor.
El-Sayed, a lifelong Michigander whose campaign has raised nearly $2 million, could be the first Muslim-American governor in the United States. He is considered the most serious challenger to Democratic frontrunner Gretchen Whitmer ahead of the August primary. And on Monday, Bridge, a Michigan magazine, published an article saying the stint El-Sayed spent as a medical student and professor at Columbia University in New York between 2013 and 2016 could be used against him, writing that “questions surrounding El-Sayed’s candidacy are an open secret among Democrats, particularly in southeast Michigan.”
Most of the Democrats and election lawyers the magazine interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity, because they “didn’t want to be caught up in a controversy.” A controversy has resulted nonetheless, with much of the Detroit press picking up the story. El-Sayed, in a fundraising email, said the article is the work of “establishment Democrats resorting to the kind of birther tactics that opponents to Barack Obama used to discredit his run for the presidency.”
Asked about the dispute, Whitmer’s campaign neither condemned nor supported the allegations against El-Sayed and had nothing to say about his response.
“Whitmer is not focused on chatter about who is or is not getting into the race and frankly there has been way too much distraction from how we fix our roads, grow our economy, and protect health care for Michigan families,” Annie Ellison, a spokesperson for the campaign, told The Intercept. “Anything that distracts from how we solve problems and put people first in this state is not something she’s paying attention to.”