Hansen Clarke's amazing story continues
"He inspires Indian Americans, and is proud of his Indian heritage," said Dr Chathapuram S Ramanathan, founding chair, Michigan Indo-American Caucus, about state Senator Hansen Clarke. Clarke trounced seven-term Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick in the Democratic Primary.
"Given that the 13th District (in and around Detroit) is 80 percent Democratic, I believe Senator Clarke will definitely serve well in the US Congress," Ramanathan said.
Clarke said he will be proud to represent the Indian community as the second community Democrat in Congress after Dalip Saund.
The Indian community, however, did not help him much and he owes his victory to the African-American community. Only the Telugu community helped him during the primary, he said. After his victory in the primary, several Indians came forward.
"When I needed the help, it was not forthcoming. This could be a reason why Indians have not much clout in politics," Clarke said.
He won a hard-fought primary with few resources against a well-funded opponent. Kilpatrick raised more than $512,000 while Clarke had only $145,000, most of it coming from his own pocket. Clarke did not have the resources for a television campaign, but took his message directly to the streets, meeting with people in soup kitchens, churches and polling places. It paid off, he told his supporters.
Kilpatrick faced much opposition due to the scandals surrounding her son, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is in jail on a probation violation on state felonies and is awaiting trial on federal charges of tax evasion and mail and tax fraud.
In his victory speech, Clarke said, 'I wanted to serve in government because I knew, from personal experience, that government can help people when they are in need. When I lost my family by age 19, (it was) my college scholarship, and then my job it was a job created by Congress that provided me with a second chance. As your Congressman, I will work to provide people in this region with similar opportunities that I received from Congress when I needed it This (victory) is for the laid-off auto executive facing foreclosure, the single parent struggling all the time when others prosper, and the military vet who eats his meals out of a garbage dumpster.'
He will face Republican John Hauler and Green Party candidate George Corsetti in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.
Clarke served six years in the state House before being elected twice to the state Senate. An attorney, he also ran unsuccessfully for Detroit mayor. He is term limited in the Michigan senate.
Text: George Joseph
Image: Hansen Clarke
Hansen Clarke's amazing story continues
Clarke is not very familiar in the Indian community. But at the Democratic Dialogue organized by the Indian American Leadership Initiative in Washington, DC, a few years ago, he captured hearts and minds with his amazing story.
"I did not know myself," Clarke, who then looked like a college student with his pony tail and mannerism, said. "My father was born in 1910 and a little old when I was born in 1957. He passed away when I was 8. He stayed at home and stayed always with me till he died," he said. "A drop of black blood makes you black. But in my reelection campaign in 1992, my opponent said I was not black enough. He also said my name is Hansen Hashim Clarke, which was true. He also said I am a Pakistani.
His campaign was successful and I was defeated. How I look, I look proud of it. I am proud of being what I am. It does not matter wherever you came from. Be proud of yourself Somebody once asked me whether we should support a candidate just because he is Indian. My answer was yes. Who else will we support?"
Clarke is his mother Thelma's last name. He remembers asking why his father's friends would not come to their home in a working class neighborhood of Detroit. His mother supported the family with a job as a school crossing guard. Food stamps helped fill in the gaps. When Clarke was in third grade, a teacher urged his mother to provide him with art lessons. It was not easy, but his mother was able to arrange for the Detroit Institute of Arts to pay for the lessons through a grant.
He remembers those sad days. A close friend got killed at a young age. Some others were murdered or committed suicide. A pimp next door was his hero.
"I was ashamed of myself. I would not identify with my neighborhood," he said.
Eventually he got a scholarship from Cornell University for a Bachelors of Fine Arts in painting. During his freshman year, his mother died. He ran for the student seat on the Cornell University Board of Trustees and won.
By his senior year, he decided to pursue law. He graduated from the Georgetown Law School, returned to Detroit, and was elected three times to the Michigan House of Representatives: 1990, 1998 and 2000. In 2002, he was elected to the Michigan state Senate, defeating an incumbent.
Clarke married Choi Palms-Cohen, who was his campaign treasurer. Next month will mark the 100th birth anniversary of his father Abdul Hashim, who came to the US from what is now Bangladesh's Sylhet district. Clarke visited India, mostly Andhra Pradesh, a decade ago and traveled to Bangladesh a year-and-a half ago.
Image: Clarke won a hard-fought primary