By his own admission, Adam Hollier is not the kind of guy you want to have a beer with.
“You remember when George W. Bush was running and they were like, ‘He’s the kind of guy you want to have a beer with?’” he told me, by way of explaining his personality. “No one wants to have a beer with me.”
Why not, I asked?
“I’m not fun,” he said. “I’m the friend who you call to move a heavy couch. 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 designated driver.”
He repeated it again, in case I didn’t get it the first time: “I am not fun.”
Hollier, 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. A captain and paratrooper in the Army Reserves, he ran track and played safety at Cornell University despite being just 5-foot-9. After a fellowship with AmeriCorps, he earned a graduate degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.
Hollier’s brother, who is 11 years older, is 6-foot-5. His eldest sister is a federal investigator for the U.S. Postal Service who went to the University of Michigan on a basketball and water polo scholarship.
“I grew up in a household of talent. And I don’t really have much of it,” Hollier said with self-effacing modesty. “My little sister is an incredible musician and singer and, you know, has done all of those things. I can barely clap on beat.”
Hollier is running — when I spoke with him, he was quite literally doing so to drop his daughters off at day care — to replace Representative Brenda Lawrence, a four-term congresswoman who announced her retirement early this year.
Her district, before a nonpartisan commission remapped boundaries that were widely seen as unfairly tilted toward Republicans, was one of the most heavily gerrymandered in the country, a salamander-like swath of land that snaked from Pontiac in the northwest across northern Detroit to the upscale suburb of Grosse Pointe on Lake St. Clair, then southward down the river toward River Rouge and Dearborn.
Defying the odds, Hollier has racked up endorsement after endorsement by doing what he’s always done — outworking everybody else.
Early on, Lawrence endorsed Portia Roberson, a lawyer and nonprofit leader from Detroit, but she has failed to gain traction. In March, the Legacy Committee for Unified Leadership, a local coalition of Black leaders run by Warren Evans, the Wayne County executive, endorsed Hollier instead.
In late June, so did Mike Duggan, the city’s mayor. State Senator Mallory McMorrow, a fellow parent and a newfound political celebrity, backed him in May. A video announcing her endorsement shows Hollier wearing a neon vest and pushing a double jogging stroller.
Hollier’s main opponent in the Democratic primary, Shri Thanedar, is a self-financing state lawmaker who previously ran for governor in 2018 and came in third place in the party’s primary behind Gretchen Whitmer and Abdul El-Sayed. His autobiography, “The Blue Suitcase: Tragedy and Triumph in an Immigrant’s Life,” 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 own money on the race so far, according to campaign finance reports.
Pro-Israel groups, worried about his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have backed Hollier, as have veterans’ groups and two super PACs backed by cryptocurrency donors. The outside spending has allowed Hollier to compensate for Thanedar’s TV ad spending, which dwarfs his own.
A firefighter’s son who couldn’t become a firefighter
The son of a social worker and a firefighter, Hollier recalls his father sitting him down when he was 8 years old and telling him he must never follow in his footsteps.
Asked why, his father replied, “You don’t have that little bit of healthy fear that brings you home at night.”
The comment stunned the young Hollier, who still considers his father, who ran the Detroit Fire Department’s hazardous material response team and retired as a captain after serving on the force for nearly 30 years, his own personal superhero.
“And that’s a weird experience,” Hollier said. “Because, you know, at Career Day, nothing trumps firefighter except astronaut. Every kid’s dad is their hero, but my dad is, you know, objectively” — objectively, he said again, emphasizing the word — “in that space.”
When he was 10 years old, in 1995, he persuaded his father to take him to the Million Man March in Washington, a gathering on the National Mall that was aimed at highlighting the challenges of growing up Black and male in America. They went to the top of the Washington Monument, where young Adam insisted on taking a photograph to get a more accurate sense of the crowd size.
His parents were not political “at all,” he said — he notes that when Martin Luther King Jr. visited Detroit just ahead of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, his father went to a baseball game instead.
Years later, Hollier admitted sheepishly, he did rebel against his father — by becoming a volunteer firefighter in college.
Early interest in politics
Hollier was very much a political animal from a young age, he acknowledged.
“I know it’s in vogue for people to say they never thought they would run for office, but I always knew I was, right?” he said. “Like, I was always involved in the thing.”
That same day in Washington, for instance, he met Dennis Archer, the mayor of Detroit at the time, who told him he should “think about doing what I do” someday — a heady experience for a 10-year-old. He took the advice to heart, winning his first race for student council president in high school.
Hollier’s first official job in politics was in 2004, working as an aide to Buzz Thomas, a now-retired state senator he considers his political mentor. Hollier lost a race for the State House in 2014 to the incumbent then, Rose Mary Robinson. In 2018, he was elected to the State Senate, where he worked on an auto insurance overhaul and lead pipe removal.
But the achievement he’s most proud of, he said, is scrambling to save jobs in his district after General Motors closed a plant in Hamtramck just after he took office. In a panic, he called Archer, who gave him a list of 10 things to do immediately.
One of the top items on Archer’s list was tracking down former Senator Carl Levin, a longtime friend of labor unions who had recently retired, and whom he’d never met.
Don’t accept that G.M. would close the plant, Levin told him when they spoke.
“They’re not going to produce the vehicles that they produce there right now,” Hollier recounted Levin saying. “But you’re fighting for the next product line.”
Hollier took that advice to heart, and worked with a coalition of others to steer G.M. toward a different solution. The site is now known as Factory Zero, the company’s first plant dedicated entirely to electric vehicles.
Motivations and milestones
If Hollier loses, Michigan is likely to have no Black members of Congress for the first time in seven decades.
When I ask him what that means to him, he jumps into an impassioned speech about how important it is for Black Americans, and for young Black men in particular, to have positive role models. It’s one I suspect he has been giving some version of for his entire life in politics.
Growing up in north Detroit, Hollier often ran into his own representative, John Conyers, the longest serving African-American member of Congress. Conyers, who died in 2019 at age 90, was known for walking every nook and cranny of his district.
But when Hollier knocked on his first door the first time he ran for office, the woman who opened it asked him, “Are you going to disappoint me like Kwame?” — a reference to Kwame Kilpatrick, the disgraced former mayor of Detroit.
That experience sobered him about running for office as a Black man in Detroit, a highly segregated city where Black men are disproportionally likely to end up jobless or in prison. But it also motivated him to prove the woman wrong.
On his 25th birthday, Hollier recalled going to pick up some food from a store near his parents’ house. Told about the milestone, the man behind the counter replied: “Congratulations. Not everybody makes it.”
With just one day left before the primary, Hollier has spent 760 hours asking for donations over the phone, raising more than $1 million. His campaign says it has made 300,000 phone calls and knocked on 40,000 doors — double, he tells me with pride, what Representative Rashida Tlaib was able to do in the district next door.
But when I asked him if he would be at peace if he lost, he confessed, “That’s a tough one.”
He paused for a moment, then said, “I feel strongly that I’ve done everything I could have done.”
What to read
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