Kennedy promises to bring diversity to Illinois government
Christopher Kennedy, the son of slain former New York Senator and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, told an overcrowded gathering of American Arabs outside of Chicago that he would defend the rights of immigrants and fight to bring diversity back to Illinois government when elected governor of the state in 2018. Kennedy is one of several candidates seeking the Democratic party’s gubernatorial nomination and spoke at a meeting of the Arab American Democratic Club
By Ray Hanania
Gubernatorial candidate Christopher G. Kennedy vowed Sunday at an annual Democratic candidate’s banquet to bring diversity back to the state of Illinois and include American Arabs if he is elected governor.
Kennedy was the keynote political speaker at the event hosted by the Arab American Democratic Club (AADC) that drew the attendance of more than 50 elected officials and officeholders in local municipal, county, state and federal government.
Among those attending or acknowledged were Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin, Tinley Park Mayor David Seaman, Bridgeview Mayor and State Senator Steven Landek, Lyons Mayor and Lyons Township Supervisor Christopher Getty, Orland Hills Mayor Kyle Hastings, Worth Mayor Mary Werner, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury, Mayor Robert Polk of Burnham. Mayor Barrett Pedersen of Franklin Park, and Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett.
Also paying homage to the growing American Arab community were Congressman Dan Lipinski, Cook County Clerk Dorothy Brown, County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, County Assessor and Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios, State Sen. Daniel Biss of Skokie who happens to be Jewish, Palos Committeeman Robert Maloney, and School District 135 Board member David Shalabi.
A theme of the evening was championing the rights of American Arabs and including American Arabs in local, county, state and Federal government, as well as opposing national policies restricting the rights of immigrants.
“Immigrants are our neighbors, our friends. They are the architects of our famous buildings and they enrich our daily lives. Immigrants are the very fabric of our society, just as I am and just as all of you are. Immigrants are American. We shouldn’t stop them from becoming Americans,” Kennedy told the more than 400 attendees at the Belvedere Chateau in Palos Hills.
“When we welcome new people into our lives and into our country we encourage new ideas and new ways of looking at old problems.”
Kennedy told Americans that the experience of his grandmother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, taught her family the lessons of prejudice that Irish Catholics faced when she was a little girl.
“She described the signs hung above the back service doors of the restaurants that said N-I-N-A, ‘No Irish Need Apply’,” Kennedy recalled noting that though she was the mother of an American President, she was the daughter of Irish immigrants.
The keynote speaker was Jim Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute based on Washington D.C. Zogby served on the platform committee for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), who urged Arabs to become involved in local politics, to vote and to be inclusive.
“As immigrants, we help America to be smarter, stronger and better,” said Zogby who reminded the audience that it wasn’t too long ago that American politicians who return money rather than accept donations from American Arabs to avoid be associated with a community engulfed in controversy.
“We bring a lot to this process,” Zogby said. Stressing that Arabs “are American,” he noted the many contributions they have made and continue to make to American society.
Samir Khalil, executive director of the AADC, said the group is very proud that so many elected and government officials felt the need to attend the brunch.
“Arab Americans are actively engaged in our society and communities. We pay our taxes. We have served in the military to defend this country. We have our homes, families and businesses in these communities. It’s important that our elected officials recognize our needs along with the needs of others,” Khalil said.
Attendees also included Mike Lamar, Palos Hills alderman; Greg Ramirez, Lyons Trustee; Former Lyons Mayor Ken Getty; D’Lorah Catizone, Hickory Hills Clerk; State Sen. Billy Cunningham; 6th District Judge Fredrick Bates; Jimmy Nolan Palos Township Clerk; Kenneth Nolan, City of Palos Hills Treasurer; Mike Howley Mayor of Hickory Hills; Mervate Mohammed, 5th Ward alderman Palos Hills; Chicago Ald. Rod Sawyer, the son of the late Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer; and Deputy County Clerk Dawn Nowack.
Among candidates attending were: Randy Keller, candidate for Worth President; Bahira Karim, candidate for the Village of Worth Board of Trustees; Paul Geller candidate for alderman of Palos Hills; Safaa Zarzour, candidate for Oak Lawn High school District 229 Board; Jason Hilger, candidate for the Oak Lawn Park District; and, Robert Streit, candidate for Mayor of Oak Lawn.
The event emcee was former State Rep. and Cook County Clerk Chief of Staff Clem Balanoff. Entertainment was provided by Detroit Arab American comedian Amer Zahr.
(Ray Hanania is a freelance writer and columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.)