Stephanie Chang won the Democratic race in Tuesday's primary for the House seat held by term-limited Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who was born to Palestinian parents. Tlaib ran for the state Senate but appeared to lose to incumbent Virgil Smith based on unofficial numbers, and she conceded the race.
Chang, who was born and raised in the Detroit area after her parents came from Taiwan, is co-founder and past president of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan. Chang would be the first Asian-American woman in Michigan's statehouse, according to national organization executive director Christine Chen, but there are two Democratic men of Asian descent, Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood and Rep. Sam Singh.
The 6th District, which includes parts of Detroit as well the working-class suburbs of River Rouge and Ecorse, is heavily Democratic and African-American. Chang beat six other Democratic challengers.
Chang, 30, is a University of Michigan graduate who served as an assistant to Detroit-based writer, speaker and civil rights and social activist Grace Lee Boggs. She also has worked for about a decade as a community organizer and recently served as community engagement coordinator for the James and Grace Lee Boggs School, a Detroit elementary charter school named after Boggs and her late husband.
"What's been great with Stephanie is she actually had a number of different mentors early on — even before she even thought of running for office," said Chen, who has known Chang since she was a college student. "Through the whole process, there have been a number of people she could count on and ... her passion for the community and the issues got her involved."
Chen said the number of Asian-American candidates has increased nationwide, and many have been elected in areas where there aren't large Asian communities. She said it would be gratifying to see "one trailblazer after another," referring to Chang and Tlaib, who was raised in southwestern Detroit.
Chang said she has experienced "mixed emotions" since Tuesday night, from the elation of winning to the disappointment over the loss by Tlaib, who Chang called a "great friend" and "inspiration." She saw how Tlaib has connected with constituents and she's worked to do the same in the campaign, including twice knocking on doors throughout the district.
"What a lot of people told me and what became so clear in the campaign is people can really see past a lot of difference," Chang said. "People want results."