Maryann Mahaffey, a longtime Detroit City Council president and leading progressive activist, died on July 27, 2006.
Mahaffey was born Burlington, Iowa. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell College, a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California. Mahaffey served Detroit City Council president for 12 years and as a council member for 32 years. She also is a member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
Her political career began in the 1960s with an appointment as a special full-time consultant to Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh on parks, recreation and social service. She was active in many organizations related to nutrition, women in politics, peace and ending discrimination.
Mahaffey led the way in creating and helping to fund a rape crisis unit, pushed for legislation that regulated homeless shelters and apartment rentals and helped to expand the city healthcare benefits to include same-sex couples.
Mahaffey died from health complications related to leukemia. She was 81.
Jennifer Granholm, who was Michigan governor at the time of Mahaffey’s death, called her “an extraordinary force not only in Detroit but in Michigan.
“Maryann was a voice for those who could not be heard, and she gave hope when none was on the horizon. She was one of the most admired and beloved public servants anywhere, and for me, she was a mentor, a role model and a friend.”
A move is currently underway at Wayne State University to remember Mahaffey’s commitment to the community. She taught there as a professor in the Department of Social Work. A memorial garden is planned at WSU and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant playground for Detroit children is also in the works.
Sheryl Kubiak, dean of WSU’s School of Social Work, once interned in Mahaffey’s City Council office.
“Maryann was an incredible mentor…she demonstrated the kind of integrity that gives the opportunity for social change,” Kubiak said. “She was a tiny woman, but she had a presence. She could be respective but pointed. She was larger than life but so humble and empathetic.”