COSTELLO: So, mayor, I will start with you. You govern a majority Muslim American city. Are you afraid?MAJEWSKI: No, I'm not afraid. And actually I'd like to make another correction. We have, as of our last election, which was a couple of weeks ago, we elected a Muslim majority council. Whether the demographics of the city would say that we're a Muslim majority city, I think we're — I don't think that we're there yet. I think we're probably somewhere in the 40 percent Muslim for the city overall. But our city council that will take office in January will be a majority Muslim council.COSTELLO: So does that concern some of your citizens?MAJEWSKI: You know, the issues for — we're a small city. We're 23,000, 24,000 people. We're 2.2 square miles. The issues for most of our residents are, can we — can we fix the streets? You know, will the street lights — the street light that's out in front of my house, can we get that fixed? They're local issues. And the — the — there's not a kind of level of fear that we hear when we talk about this on a national level. Really, our city council and our residents are most concerned with the day to day issues that affect their life when they walk out their front door.
In a vacuum, the question looks bad — especially since the mayor, Karen Majewski, offered an unequivocal response: “No, I’m not afraid.” Majewski went on to say she believes Muslims comprise about 40 percent of Hamtramck’s population, not a majority.
Then, when Costello followed up by asking if some Hamtramck residents are concerned about the new city council, Majewski shot down that idea, too. She insisted the issues residents worry about are small, local things, like road repairs and street light outages.
Majewski’s responses made it appear as if Costello conjured the prospect of fear out of thin air, using bigoted assumptions.
The thing is, though, that Majewski’s answers were dramatically different from what she told The Washington Post for a story that ran on Saturday. According to that report, some residents of Hamtramck most definitely are unnerved by the result of the city council election and the growing Muslim population.
“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” Majewski told The Post. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”
More from Saturday’s story:
In many ways, Hamtramck is a microcosm of the fears gripping parts of the country since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris: The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.
“It’s traumatic for them,” said Majewski, a dignified-looking woman in a brown velvet dress, her long, silvery hair wound in a loose bun. …
Majewski, whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century, admitted to a few concerns of her own. Business owners within 500 feet of one of Hamtramck’s four mosques can’t obtain a liquor license, she complained, a notable development in a place that flouted Prohibition-era laws by openly operating bars. The restrictions could thwart efforts to create an entertainment hub downtown, said the pro-commerce mayor.
Clearly, something made Majewski change her tune between publication of that story Saturday and her appearance on CNN on Monday. Perhaps constituents complained. Maybe her feelings genuinely shifted when she saw her own words in print. We don’t know.
But we do know that Costello had every reason to believe Majewski and some residents of Hamtramck are at least a little bit afraid of what was happening in their town. Majewski, after all, had said so herself.
Could the questions have been phrased more delicately? Probably. Would introducing the notion of fear have made more sense to viewers if CNN had, ahem, cited The Post report when introducing Majewski? Definitely.
But let’s cool it on the accusations of CNN bigotry. The idea of fear initially came from the guest, not the anchor.