Lawrence City Commission candidate profile: Bassem Chahine
Although Lawrence City Commission candidate Bassem Chahine has now spent half his life in Lawrence, moving to the Midwest was never the plan.
Chahine, who is Lebanese-American, was born and raised in Abu Dhabi, the island capital of the United Arab Emirates on the edge of the Persian Gulf.
Chahine is one of six kids and moved with his family to Lawrence at the age of 16. Originally, his family had planned to move to California, but Chahine said that after visiting his oldest brother, who at the time was enrolled in law school at the University of Kansas, they changed their plans.
“We came here to visit him and we just fell in love with it,” said Chahine, who noted that Lawrence was safer and less expensive. “We never went to California.”
Years down the line, Chahine, 32, has two children and runs a business in Lawrence. He said he wants the same thing for his son and daughter as he does for everyone in the city.
“I want to help guide our community into a future based on progress where no one is left behind,” Chahine said. “I’d be listening to every single citizen, and not just the privileged few.”
Chahine graduated from Free State High School in 2003. He earned a degree in business administration from the University of Kansas in 2008 and holds a master’s and doctoral degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
Chahine is the owner and operator of Medwakh.com, a business based in North Lawrence that manufactures and distributes hookah tobacco and tobacco products. Previously, Chahine owned Lawrence Hookah House and Euphoria Hookah Lounge in downtown Lawrence, as well as two similar businesses in Topeka.
If elected, Chahine said he thinks his experience running a business will help him be an effective commissioner. He said there are parallels between budgeting and planning for a business and the commission’s work.
“I feel the city does really good in strategic planning, and I think I can really help with the other 5-10 years of comprehensive planning,” Chahine said. “I think that’s where I’ll do very well.”
Chahine said the main focus of his campaign is economic development. He said that Lawrence is growing and that he doesn’t think the city has enough large employers that provide full-time jobs that pay a living wage.
Though Chahine noted the city has the University of Kansas as an employer, he said the city needs to work more with the university and the chamber of commerce to actively recruit more businesses.
“I feel that we wait until somebody calls us to open a business in Lawrence instead of going out and finding them and bringing them in,” Chahine said.
Chahine said that the city could better utilize economic incentives to attract primary employers as well as provide more incentives for existing businesses to expand. He said he thinks the community needs a plan with specific objectives for how it will add jobs to the city quickly.
Another issue Chahine is focusing on is public safety. He said a key component of the issue is handling mental health differently. He said he sees mental health as an issue for both the city and the county to address, and that mental health and drug courts should provide an alternative to criminal courts.
“That’s what’s going to help,” Chahine said. “Not flooding our jail.”
A public safety issue that Chahine said doesn’t get enough attention is human trafficking. He said allowing any human trafficking to occur is a bad image for Lawrence, and he wants to make sure that city ordinances are in place that prevent the crime.
A third issue Chahine said he is concerned about is the city’s infrastructure. He said making sure the city’s streets, sidewalks, water lines and sewers are in good shape also helps create the sense of community that can attract primary employers. Along with streets, he said that the city should be responsible for sidewalk repairs, including for sidewalks that border residential property.
Though he lives in west Lawrence, Chahine noted his family’s business is downtown and his own is based in North Lawrence. For all infrastructure maintenance, he said the city needs to ensure it is done equitably.
“I see parts of the town that need more help,” Chahine said. “We need to look at Lawrence as a whole.”
The terms of commissioners Lisa Larsen, Mike Amyx and Matthew Herbert are expiring this year. Eight candidates have filed for the election: Herbert, Larsen, Jennifer Ananda, Chahine, Dustin Stumblingbear, Ken Easthouse, Mike Anderson and Christian Lyche.
The primary election on Aug. 1 will narrow the field to six candidates. The general election will be Nov. 7.
Address: 4405 Stone Meadows Ct.
Occupation: business owner
Education: doctorate in business administration
Family: wife, Elizabeth Chahine, and a son and daughter