Hansen Clarke’s amazing story continues
e inspires Indian
Americans, and is
proud of his Indian heritage,” said Dr Chatha-puram S Ramanathan,
Clarke trounced seven-term
Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks
Kilpatrick in the Democratic Primary.
“Given that the 13th District (inand
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
Michigan state Senator Hansen Clarke has Indian roots
PHOTOGRAPHS: HANSENCLARKEFORCONGRESS. COM
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
Clarke won a hard-fought primary with few resources against a well-funded opponent
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
In his victory speech, Clarke said, ‘I wanted to serve in government because I knew,
He will face Republican John Hauler
and Green Party candidate George
Corsetti in the overwhelmingly
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.
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
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.