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Gabriela Santiago-Romero: Latina seeks Wayne Co. Commissioner seat

DETROIT: A Mexican immigrant is seeking to be elected as the youngest member of the Wayne County Commission—but she has to win a three-woman primary Aug. 4, 2020 to have a shot in November.

28-year-old Gabriela Santiago-Romero told the Detroit Free Press in 2017 she intended to run for office in 2020, back when she was a University of Michigan graduate student in social work and policy. The Democrat is making good on that pledge, because she stated then that younger party members need to be trusted to make the change necessary to reach the disenfranchised.


Gabriela Santiago-Romero

“I think the party should trust young people,” she said in that article. “It should trust new Americans. It should trust women. It hasn’t been doing that. The Democrats seem very elite.”

She also spoke then of frustration with party leadership not listening or trying “to do things differently,” such as trying new ideas or getting “better with technology.”

Born in Mexico and raised in Southwest Detroit, Ms. Santiago-Romero has spent the last several years as a community organizer and political activist. She spent a couple of years at the helm of Girls Making Change, working with state Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) on the fellowship and leadership program for young girls of color.

Ms. Santiago-Romero also has worked in the cabinet of Detroit City Council member Raquel Casteneda-López and as an assistant to Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. Both Sen. Chang and Councilwoman Casteneda-López have personally endorsed her current campaign.

Ms. Santiago-Romero’s background is a Latina success story—the first in her family to pursue higher education and graduate with a master’s degree. She became Student Union President during grad school at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. She continued her higher education at Harvard Kennedy School in the Executive Education Certificate Program.

She currently serves as the policy and research director at a state-based movement organization, pushing for statewide policy change that centers on community basic needs in partnership with multi-racial grassroots organizations in Michigan.

When COVID-19 struck, Ms. Santiago-Romero is credited with connecting with community leaders to form a mutual aid fund to help low-income to pay bills and get food.

“Growing up an immigrant in poverty in Southwest Detroit has forced me to see and learn things the hard way. I know our family isn’t the only one in our community that has experienced these struggles,” she said on her campaign website. “Too many families in our community have struggled to make ends meet, have been pushed out of their homes by foreclosures, and have struggled to get to jobs or school due to the lack of reliable public transportation.”


Ms. Santiago-Romero is campaigning on a platform of providing better safety and health by prioritizing public health and services, affordable housing by attacking “unfair policies and confusing processes” that can lead to foreclosures and evictions, and improved collaboration on gathering “community insight for future infrastructure opportunities and development” such as the “access and affordability of public transportation” without sacrificing road repairs.


Ms. Santiago-Romero filed to run on the Aug. 4 primary ballot six months ahead of her two female Democratic opponents, Lisa Carter of Detroit and Ilona Varga of suburban Lincoln Heights. But she has a tough road to victory. Ms. Varga is the incumbent, holding the Wayne County Commissioner seat for more than 20 years.


Ms. Carter serves as a member of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, but her term is up next year. This is her second run for the District 4 county commission seat, losing to Ms. Varga in the 2018 Democratic primary.



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Revised: 07/28/20 21:00:15 -0700.




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