By his own admission, Adam Houllier isn’t the type you’d want to have a beer with.
Explaining his character, he told me, “You remember when George W. Bush was running and they were like, ‘He’s the kind of person you want to have a beer with?'” “No one wants to have a beer with me.”
I asked why not?
“I’m not funny,” he said. “I’m the friend you call to move a heavy sofa. I’m the friend you call when you’re stuck on the side of the road. Right? Like, I’m the friend you call when you need a specific driver.”
Repeat it again, in case I didn’t understand it the first time: “I’m not funny.”
Holler, 36, a Democratic candidate for a House seat in Michigan’s newly redrawn 13th congressional district, which includes Detroit and Hamtramck, is a whirlwind of perpetual motion. Captain and paratrooper in the Army Reserves, he ran on the track and played safely at Cornell University despite being only 5ft 9ft. After a fellowship with AmeriCorps, he received a graduate degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.
Holler’s brother, who is 11 years older, is 6 feet 5 feet tall. His older sister is an FBI investigator who went to the University of Michigan on a scholarship for basketball and water polo.
“I grew up in a talented household. My little sister is a great musician and singer, you know, she did all of these things,” said Holler very modestly. I can hardly clap at the beat.”
Holler is running – when I spoke to him, he was literally doing it to get his daughters into foster care – to replace Representative Brenda Lawrence, a four-term congresswoman who announced her retirement early this year.
Its region, before a nonpartisan committee redrawn a border that was widely seen as tilting unfairly toward Republicans, was one of the most manipulated in the country, a salamander-like patch of land that set off from Pontiac in the northwest across the North Detroit is upscale. Gross Point suburb on Lake St. Clair, then south down the river towards River Rouge and Dearborn.
Defying the odds, Holler earned endorsement after endorsement by doing what he had always done – working on everyone else.
Early on, Lawrence endorsed Portia Roberson, an attorney and nonprofit leader from Detroit, but failed to gain traction. In March, the Heritage Committee for Unified Leadership, a local coalition of black leaders run by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, endorsed Hawler instead.
In late June, so did Mike Duggan, the city’s mayor. He was endorsed by Senator Mallory McMorrow, a parent and new political celebrity, in May. A video announcing her endorsement shows Houllier wearing a neon jacket and pushing a double stroller to run.
Hawler’s main contender in the Democratic primary, Shri Thanidar, is a self-financing state lawmaker who previously ran for governor in 2018 and came third in the party’s primary behind Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul Sayed. His autobiography, “The Blue Bag: Tragedy and Triumph in the Life of an Immigrant,” originally written in Marathi, tells the story of his rise from lower-class origins in India to his success as an entrepreneur in the United States.
A wealthy former engineer, Thanedar now owns Avomeen Analytical Services, a chemical testing laboratory in Ann Arbor. He has spent at least $8 million of his money on the race so far, according to campaign finance reports.
Pro-Israel groups concerned about his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have backed Holler, as well as veterans’ groups and two veterans’ groups backed by crypto donors. External spending has allowed Holler to offset Thunder’s spending on television advertising, which is dwarfed on his own.
The son of a firefighter couldn’t be a firefighter
Holler, the son of a social worker and firefighter, remembers his father sitting with him when he was 8 and telling him he should never follow in his footsteps.
When asked why, his father replied, “You don’t have a little healthy dread that brings you home at night.”
The comment surprised a young Holler, still considered his father, who ran the Detroit Fire Department’s hazardous materials response team and retired as a captain after serving in the force for nearly 30 years, as his personal superhero.
“And that’s a strange experience,” said Holler. “Because, you know, in the day of the profession, nothing beats firefighters but the astronaut. The father of every child is their hero, but my father is, you know, objectively ”- objectivelyHe said again, stressing the word – “in that space.”
When he was ten, in 1995, he persuaded his father to take him to the Million Man March in Washington, a gathering at the National Mall that was meant to highlight the challenges of growing up among black and male Americans. They went to the top of the Washington Monument, where young Adam insisted that a photograph be taken to get a more accurate sense of the size of the crowd.
His parents were “not at all political,” he said — noting that when Martin Luther King Jr. visited Detroit just prior to his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, his father went to a baseball game instead.
Years later, Holler, timidly, admitted that he rebelled against his father—by becoming a college volunteer firefighter.
Early interest in politics
He admitted that Hollier had been a largely political animal from a young age.
“I know it’s fashionable for people to say they never thought they’d run for office, but I’ve always known I was, right?” He said. “Like, I’ve always been involved in this thing.”
On the same day in Washington, for example, he met Dennis Archer, the then mayor of Detroit, who told him he should “think about what I’m doing” someday—a wonderful experience for a 10-year-old. Taking the advice seriously, he won his first race for student council president in high school.
Holler’s first official job in politics was in 2004, working as an assistant to Buzz Thomas, the now-retired senator who considers him his political mentor. Houllier lost a race for the state house in 2014 to then-incumbent, Rose Marie Robinson. In 2018, he was elected to the state Senate, where he worked on auto insurance reform and the removal of lead pipes.
But he said the achievement of which he is most proud is seeking to save jobs in his area after General Motors closed a plant in Hamtramck soon after he took office. In a panic, he called Archer, who gave him a list of 10 things to do right away.
One of the most important items on Archer’s list was to track down former Senator Carl Levine, an old trade union friend who had recently retired, whom he had never met.
Don’t accept that General Motors shut down the plant, Levine told him when they spoke.
“They will not produce the compounds that they are producing there now,” Holler recounted of Levine. “But you’re fighting for the next product line.”
Holler took this advice seriously, and worked with a coalition of others to steer GM toward a different solution. Now known as Factory Zero, the site is the company’s first factory entirely dedicated to electric vehicles.
Motives and milestones
If Holler loses, Michigan will likely not have black members of Congress for the first time in seven decades.
When I ask him what that means for him, he jumps to an impassioned discourse about how important it is for black Americans, and for black youth in particular, to have a positive role model. It’s something I suspect he’s been making a version of his whole life in politics.
Growing up in North Detroit, Holler often met his own representative, John Conyers, the tallest African American member of Congress. Conyers, who died in 2019 at the age of 90, was known to walk into every nook and cranny in his neighborhood.
But when Holler knocked on his first door the first time he ran for office, the woman who opened it asked him, “Will you disappoint me like Kwame?” – A reference to Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former Detroit mayor.
This experience woke him up from running for a black man in Detroit, a deeply segregated city where black men are disproportionately likely to end up unemployed or in prison. But it also prompted him to prove the woman wrong.
On his 25th birthday, Hollier remembered that he went to buy some food at a store near his parents’ house. Speaking of this achievement, the man behind the counter said, “Congratulations. Not everyone makes it.”
With only a day left before the primaries, Holler spent 760 hours asking for donations over the phone, raising more than $1 million. His campaign says it made 300,000 phone calls and knocked on 40,000 doors — twice, he proudly told me, what MP Rashida Tlaib was able to do in the next neighborhood.
But when I asked him if he would be at peace if he lost, he admitted, “That’s hard.”
He paused for a moment, then said, “I feel very strongly that I did everything I could have done.”
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