Podcast Mayoral candidate Fioretti vows to re-establish Chicago Arab Advisory Commission
Fioretti promises to recognize and work with Chicago’s rich racial and ethnic diversity that Mayor Emanuel has abandoned
By Ray Hanania
Chicago Mayoral candidate Robert “Bob” Fioretti said that one of his first acts as mayor will be to re-establish the role of the city’s “vibrant and rich” ethnic and cultural traditions, including reviving the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs that was abruptly terminated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011.
Fioretti, a Chicago alderman since 2007 and a longtime Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago Law Department, said that he was disappointed that Emanuel had turned his back on Chicago’s neighborhoods and the “ethnic and racial diversity” that “makes Chicago great.”
Speaking during an interview on “Talk of the Town” radio broadcast on WCEV 1450 AM radio and on YahalaVoice.com, the official radio show of Chicagoland’s more than 500,000 American Arabs and Muslims, Fioretti said that reversing the damage Emanuel has done by dividing and marginalizing Chicago’s many ethnic and racial communities will be one step in strengthening the city.
“I know he [Emanuel] dismantled or completely ignored the Arab Advisory council that was in existence and I do want to reconstitute it and put it back because I think we need to listen to them,” said Firotetti, who acknowledged it was a no-brainer to restore the involvement of the various ethnic and racial groups have been shut out of the Emanuel administration in order to make Chicago stronger.
Fioretti said the first group that invited him to speak last July was the Arab American Patrolman’s Association which has more than 30 members.
“We had breakfast together on the Southwest Side and I listened to their concerns and their problems and how to have more diversity in our police force here. Not just in the Police Department but for all the departments across the city,” Fioretti emphasized.
Fioretti is the first candidate to announce his intention to challenge Emanuel in the non-partisan Chicago election on February 24, 2015. Other candidates including Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis, are expected to also officially announce their candidacies. If there are more than two candidates, a candidate must receive an absolute majority or 50 percent plus one or more votes to win the election. If no candidate receives an absolute majority vote then the top two voter getters will face-off in a run-off election to be held on April 7, 2015.
Emanuel, who is Chicago’s first Jewish mayor, has maintained a hostile distance from Chicago’s American Arab and Muslim community which is estimated to be more than 250,000. If you include non-Arab Christians from the Middle East, the number would increase to more than 350,000. Almost 10 percent of the Chicago Public Schools are American Arab or Muslim.
In one of his first acts as mayor, Emanuel gutted American Arab involvement in Chicago City Government that had first been nurtured by the late Mayor Harold Washington in 1983 and strengthened by Washington’s successors including Mayor Eugene Sawyer and Mayor Richard M. Daley. The Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs began as an institution intended to give American Arabs a voice, but had degraded into an empty political vacuum under Daley.
But Emanuel’s problems with American Arabs in Chicago had more to do with his personal pedigree. His father was a member of the notorious Irgun Zvi Leumi, which was involved in the massacre of more than 100 civilians at Deir Yassin in 1947 during the Palestine war that resulted in the creation of Israel and the expulsion of more than 750,000 Muslim and Christian Arab civilians. Although American Arab leaders did not hold Emanuel responsible for his father’s notorious past, his decision to serve in the Israeli military as civilian support repairing military trucks while not serving in the U.S. Military in any capacity angered many people. Emanuel has hid behind Arab-Jewish tensions.
Emanuel’s aides have told insiders that the mayor is angry with American Arabs who have asked him about his past military service in Israel and his father’s leadership of the Irgun, which was labeled as a “terrorist organization” by the British Government which ruled Palestine under a mandate given to it by the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.
But Fioretti acknowledged that his interests in American Arabs and Muslims had nothing to do with the Middle East conflict and instead focused on something more basic, their constitutional rights as Americans to be treated equally and fairly by the administration of an American city.
“I am running for mayor because I love this city and I think this city can no longer afford the leadership that divides us and ignores the needs and struggles of the majority of this city. When Rahm came into town four years ago he said he was going to get tough,” Fioretti said during Talk of the Town Radio Show Friday, October 3, 2014.
“But all we got was tough luck. And I hear from Chicagoans, even before I decided to make the run, that we need a mayor who represents us, the people. We need a mayor who listens to us and fights for us. I have been doing that as an alderman and I will do that as a mayor here of this city. I think the people of this city deserves nothing less than a mayor who listens to them and fights for them.”
Since his election in 2011, Emanuel has closed the Arab Advisory Commission, pulled the funding from the annual Arabesque Festival, and pushed American Arabs who are Christian and Muslim away, disinviting them from official City of Chicago events. In many cases, Emanuel has replaced Arab participation with Muslims who are non-Arab, leaders of Chicago’s Arab community had charged.
Emanuel has refused to me with American Arab community leaders and has repeatedly declined interview request from American Arab journalists including by this reporter. He has also declined to appear on American Arab radio programs.
Fioretti reiterated that his commitment is to the people of Chicago and that his desire to bring the different communities together was his priority. He called Emanuel as “failure” as a mayor for having failed to bring the city’s various communities together.
“If you don’t have everybody’s opinions you really are a failure as a leader of this city. You can always follow what happens but you have to lead. And how do you lead? By listening to everybody’s opinions. You said it at one point, we are a city rich in diversity. And it is a great city and we need to keep encompassing that and embracing that and having everyone realize this is such a diverse city. I think in our Chicago Public Schools, we speak over 190 languages,” Fioretti said.
Fioretti said that his priorities as mayor will be to address the rising crime rate and to strengthen education for the city’s school children. Fioretti’s website is www.BobFioretti.com.
Fioretti participated during the first 30 minutes of the radio show which airs every Friday at 4 pm in Chicago. Segment 2 featured American Jewish blogger and writer Richard Silverstein who discussed the challenges facing American Arabs in educating mainstream Americans about the challenges of achieving peace with Justice between Palestinians and Israelis in Palestine and Israel. Silverstein’s website is www.RichardSilverstein.com.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News www.TheArabDailyNews.com and is President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media consulting. Reach him at email@example.com.)
Listen to the Podcast of the Radio Show here