By Ray Hanania
The Arab American Democratic Club this week announced it will endorse Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and will host a fundraiser “salute” for Garcia to support his candidacy for Mayor of Chicago in the Feb. 24, 2015 election against anti-Arab Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Many other American Arabs, however, are supporting Ald. Bob Fioretti believing that Fioretti has a better chance of defeating Emanuel, who since taking office in 2011 has gone out of his way to undermine the involvement of American Arabs in Chicago City government.
Emanuel has worked with several anti-Arab and pro-Israel Chicago organizations to shutout American Arab involvement including demanding the termination of the annual Arabesque Festival and gutting of the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs. One of Emanuel’s first acts in office was to abolish the Arab Advisory Commission, and then undermine the Arabesque Festival which had only been held four times between 2007 and 2010. Click here to read about Emanuel’s opposition to American Arab rights.
Personally, although I have known Garcia for many years, I think he has been a weak candidate who has tended to embrace symbolism and rhetoric rather than solid action. The stronger candidate, I think, is Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) who has strong support from the more influential African American community. Garcia’s base is in the Hispanic community, which always has a low voter turnout in elections.
Fioretti has also forcefully vowed to reverse the anti-Arab policies implemented by Emanuel and to restore both the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs and the Arabesque Festival.
“My commitment it to diversity,” Fioretti said recently during an interview on 1450 AM Radio’s Talk of the Town Radio on YahalaVoice. “I think that Mayor Emanuel has wrongly excluded Arab Americans from Chicago government and it undermines diversity. I will re-establish the Arab Advisory Commission and support the Arabesque Festival.”
Radio Talkshow host and community activist Rush Darwish agreed that many in the American Arab community support Fioretti. “A lot of people in the community like Fioretti,” he said. Darwish’s radio show website is www.riseupshow.com.
Former Judge Bill Haddad, now the head of AMVOTE (at www.AMVote.org), noted, “We’ll give everyone an equal voice.”
But Samir Khalil, the executive director of the Arab American Democratic Club, said that Garcia has been a longstanding partner with progressive Arab American activists in Chicago noting that he attended college at the University of Illinois at Chicago (where I and other Arab students first met him) and also was a key ally of the administration of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
“Since Harold Washington’s time, Jesus Garcia spoke out on our behalf. A lot of our Arab students attended the University of Illinois with Garcia and he understands our concerns and our issues. Garcia visited Palestine in the late 1980s around the first Intifada and he came back and spoke on the injustices that have been inflicted on Palestinians. He spoke out against the unfair occupation of the Palestinian people. He works closely with a lot of solidarity groups and unions,” explained Khalil.
“Fioretti attended our AADC functions. But I think we have to look at it from a pragmatic point of view that Garcia, because of his having worked closely with Washington and the Arab community in the 1980s, is the stronger candidate. Garcia was one of the key supporters of Harold Washington when a lot of candidates were fighting Washington. Garcia was also a regular visitor with the Arab Community Center.”
Khalil said that the endorsement of Garcia is not a statement against Fioretti who was among a dozen elected officials who attended the AADC’s luncheon and public forum October 18. Click here to get information on the AADC salute to Garcia on Jan. 25, 2015.
“We like Fioretti. It is nothing against Fioretti. We just think Garcia has a better chance. If the others would drop out and support Garcia, it would be a good chance for the people of Chicago,” Khalil said.
Khalil said that American Arab voters also need to recognize that we can have a debate in our community without making it personal or angry.
“We can disagree and still be a strong community,” Khalil said. Khalil points out AADC invited Rahm several times to attend their event, “but did not respond.” Khali said, “Garcia Lived in Chicago all his life. Rahm is a Washington insider that collected $14Million serving Lobbyists not the people of Chicago.”
Khalil is correct in this regard. American Arabs need to learn to be more focused on the facts rather than on the disagreement. It is more important that American Arab voters get involved in the elections, even if they don’t always come together to agree on candidates or even issues.
The Arab American Democratic Club is partisan and represents Democratic activists. Fortunately, though, the Chicago mayoral election is non-partisan meaning that candidates do not run based on party affiliation as they did many years ago. Democrats, Republicans and Independents will be running for mayor in the open primary election together. The winner will need to receive 50 percent plus 1 or more votes to win the election. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the votes, then the top two candidates will face-off in a run-off election in April.
I think Fioretti is a much stronger candidate than Garcia, who over the years has been too far to the left of mainstream society and too far to the left of American Arabs.
The better alternative, in my opinion, is to host a forum where we invite all of the candidates to address the American Arab community. Rahm Emanuel, given his anti-Arab attitude, won’t come. He’s a coward. A hypocrite who speaks from both sides of his mouth, on one hand saying he wants an open and diverse Chicago but on the other hand excluding ethnic communities like American Arabs.
Although I covered Chicago City Hall for 17 years (covering every Chicago mayor from Richard J. Daley to Richard M. Daley), Emanuel has refused to allow me to interview him, because I am American Arab. He knows that I served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War while he served in the Israeli army and never served int he American military, an issue he should address, but won’t.
The Arab American Democratic Club is a good organization. I just think that we need a stronger candidate to defeat Emanuel. And I think that stronger candidate is Bob Fioretti. Click here to visit Fioretti’s website. Click here to visit Garcia’s County website.
Anyone is better than Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But I think the better candidate is Bob Fioretti.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and President/CEO of the political and government media consulting firm Urban Strategies Group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)