She’s getting set to move into her Midtown Detroit apartment, with a view down Woodward Avenue, in a few short weeks. Lauren Mondry, 26, of Bloomfield Hills is excited about her city digs and loving her fast-paced job as a staffer with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s re-election campaign at a time of major growth and renewal in the city.
About a year ago, she was hired as a deputy press secretary with the mayor’s office. Mondry recently transitioned to her new role and decided to become an official city resident.
“I wanted to work on the campaign because I think the mayor is doing such a phenomenal job in the city,” she says. “Right now, Detroit is at such a transformational point … this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a city coming back from bankruptcy.”
Mondry took a roundabout route back home to Detroit. She grew up in the suburbs and graduated from Birmingham’s Seaholm High School and the University of Michigan (with a degree in public policy), then spent a whirlwind seven months with former President Barack Obama’s campaign. She traveled across the country with the president and first lady helping to coordinate press and set up campaign events, quite an intro to national politics for a recent college grad. Her next stop was Chicago, where she worked in the office of Mayor Rham Emanuel.
“It was the first time I worked within a municipal government, and I was able to see how change is really fostered at the local level,” Mondry says. “I think cities are where the innovation is — so I knew I wanted to remain working in city government.”
While Chicago was fun, Mondry kept reading and hearing about the monumental changes happening back home. When she was presented with the opportunity to join Mayor Duggan’s team, she didn’t think twice.
“I read about a lot of really smart, talented people moving back, and I wanted to join them,” she says. “I wanted to be a small part of this transformation.”
Mondry grew up in a politically aware and active family. She says her Jewish roots gave her a sense of responsibility to be civically engaged and to give back. That’s what drew her to politics in the first place.
As for Detroit, while she grew up a short distance from the city, her childhood memories are limited to “occasional field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, a show or a baseball game.” She is thrilled to be part of the new crop of millennials moving to the city and rediscovering it.
“Detroit is becoming a place where Michigan has an opportunity to retain talent, people like me who are from Michigan, attend school in Michigan and then are trying to determine where to go for their careers,” Mondry says. “I think it’s very significant that young people now want to stay. And they should want to stay, in my opinion, because there’s more opportunity and it’s a great thing for our state.”
One of her goals as part of the Duggan campaign is to engage suburban Detroiters and suburban Jews in the city’s mayoral election. She encourages those who don’t live in the city to get involved and play a more active role.
“The first four years, the mayor has been really focused on getting the city’s basic metrics and basic services back on track — streetlights, the bus system, EMS and police response times — those basic needs,” Mondry says, making it clear this is her own assessment and she is not speaking on behalf of the mayor. “Now, we can take it to the next level and make sure all of Detroit is really engaged and served by this renaissance the city is seeing. That means creating more jobs and more opportunities.”
Mondry is also carving out a role for herself as a political and social activist. Following the election of President Donald Trump, she and a group of young Jewish Metro Detroit women got together and formed an organization called the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs. The new group held its first official event Jan. 20, on inauguration day. They created a Facebook page under the name JACPAC II (Detroit Chapter), and there is a website, www.jacpac.org, where people can learn more or get involved.
“It’s a political action committee that bundles money for politicians who support a progressive platform — things like reproductive rights for women, a progressive agenda for Israel, and separation of church and state,” Mondry explains. “We formed the group to encourage young women to get involved and support politicians who will champion these platforms in Congress and at the state and local levels.”
The local level is where Mondry feels people can have the greatest impact. This brings us back to Mayor Duggan’s re-election campaign. Duggan is running for a second term in office amid an ongoing federal investigation into the city’s blight demolition program. He has pledged to cooperate with authorities. A primary will take place Aug. 8 with the election Nov. 7. Currently, the mayor faces no major challengers.
“The city is so different now than it was when I was growing up,” Mondry says. “I think that’s a testament to the mayor. Detroit is really becoming a hub for world-renowned chefs, retail, new construction and new businesses. There is so much hope and optimism — it’s inspiring.”
What Does It Mean To Return?
On March 24, more than 100 community members gathered for meditative Shabbat services and dinner, “returning” to the historic Temple Beth El facility in Detroit.
The gathering, titled “Re//Turning,” was convened by The Well, in partnership with Hazon Detroit, Moishe House Royal Oak and Detroit City Moishe House.
The evening drew a crowd diverse in both age and affiliation. Participants included those who grew up attending services at the structure, to those just learning that the majestic building once housed a synagogue, to those who have been involved in efforts to transform the once synagogue, now church, into a community center and performance arts venue for all faiths.
A talented group of young adult musicians helped fill the breathtaking Albert Kahn-designed sanctuary with music as Rabbi Ben Shalva of Tamarack Camps led meditative moments interspersed in the prayer service led by Rabbi Dan Horwitz of The Well.
The communal Shabbat meal provided an opportunity for conversation and connection between community members who might not have otherwise crossed paths.
The evening clearly demonstrated that returning isn’t only a physical act, but a spiritual one as well.
Robin Schwartz Contributing Writer