Pritzker falls short on promises to Arab, Muslim Americans
As he approaches his 3rd full year in office on January 1, 2022, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has failed to deliver on a major promise he made to Arab Americans during his campaign election, to appoint Arabs and Muslims to key state boards and commissions. Pritzker, who once headed the Illinois Human Rights Commission, also has failed to name anyone to the group. He has also left the Muslim American Advisory Council completely vacant.
By Ray Hanania
Nearly three years after arguing his administration would “include” Arab Americans in his administration, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has pretty much marginalized Arab American leaders, making empty promises and posing for photos, but only naming a small handful to fill vacant state commissions.
Illinois has 317 boards and commissions that consist of some 3,000 individuals appointed by the legislature, state constitutional office and by the governor. Many are vacant and need appointments.
A review of the boards and commissions list shows Pritzker has broken his campaign promise to name Arab and Muslim Americans to the state’s many boards and commission, although he has been generous with other ethnic, racial and religious groups.
The first person Pritzker named to state office after becoming governor was Jordan Abudayyeh. A former Arab American journalist who served as his election campaign communications director and spokesperson, she was named as Pritzker’s press secretary.
Ironically, an Arab American was always destined to serve in that position. The campaign press secretary for Pritzker’s chief election rival, Christopher Kennedy, was Hanna Jubeh who is also Arab American and active in political consulting.
Although Pritzker has submitted the names of more than 90 individuals to fill vacancies on state boards and commissions, he left the one commission that was most important to the Arab community completely vacant during his first two years in office, the 21-seat Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes. In March and April 2021, Pritzker did name 17 people to serve on the board, but no Arab Americans. Four seats remain empty.
Pritzker also has failed to appoint any members to the 21 seat Muslim American Advisory Council (MAAC) which has many powers including to respond to rising anti-Arab and anti-Islamic hatred.
The MAAC is also mandated to advise the Governor and the General Assembly on policy issues impacting Muslim Americans and immigrants; to advance the role and civic participation of Muslim Americans in this State; to enhance trade and cooperation between Muslim-majority countries and this State; and to build relationships with and disseminate information to, in cooperation with State agencies, boards, and commissions, Muslim American and immigrant communities across this State. The MAAC also has 10 staff positions assigned by agency but that have also not been filed.
Ironically, Pritzker was accused of engaging in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim behavior during his first failed election run, for Congress, in the heavily Jewish 9th Congressional District seat in 1998. At the time, Pritzker, who is Jewish, denounced his chief rival, Howard Carroll, who is also Jewish, for accepting a donation from a board member of the American Muslim Council (AMC). Pritzker said Carroll had accepted funds from a donor with “ties to terrorists.” Jan Schakowsky won the election to succeed longtime Congressman Sidney Yates.
The Arab American Democratic Club endorsed Christopher Kennedy in the gubernatorial election after demanding that Pritzker apologize for his slur against the AMC. The grassroots AADC organization has been excluded from Pritzker’s government and meetings.
Pritzker received the endorsements of several other Arab American organizations during the 2018 election campaign against Kennedy including from the prestigious Political Action Committee (PAC) the American Middle East Voters Alliance (AMVOTE) headed by distinguished former Arab American Judge Bill Haddad.
Pritzker met with AMVOTE in August 2018 and was described by AMVOTE officials as having hit a “home run” after meeting with their 10-person committee. AMVOTE officials said Pritzker would hire Arab and Muslim Americans and appoint them to the state’s commissions.
During that meeting, officials noted that Pritzker had not only named an Arab as his campaign communications director, AbuDayyeh, but also appointed Matthew Hammoudeh to the Illinois Human Rights Commission when he served as its Chairman.
Governor Pritzker has the power to appoint all seven members of the Illinois Human Rights Commission which is headed by Mona Noriega. But Hammouda is no longer a member of the IHRC or on any commission. Additionally, of the seven members serving at the Governor’s appointment, none are Arab or Muslim.
During an AMVOTE forum a month later in September 2018 at Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC) that was emcee’d by Rashad “Rush” Darwish, Pritzker promised to appoint Arab Americans to his administration.
“I believe to have communities addressed, you have to have people who represent those communities in the highest levels of government,” Pritzker said, pointing out that his press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh, is Jordanian-American.
Afterwards, Darwish told the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper reporter Dermott Connolly, “Our community is starting to get involved in politics. It took a long time but it is a new generation. We will now hold him to his promises.”
Darwish ran unsuccessfully for Congress 18 months later in the March 17, 2020 election winning only 5.7 percent of the votes, far behind the winner Marie Newman and incumbent Dan Lipinski, who lost re-election. But Darwish has strong community appeal and raised more than $872,000 for the election campaign, the largest amount ever for an Arab American candidate.
Allies of the governor insist Pritzker did appoint Arab American Omer Osman to the post of Acting Executive Director of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). But Osman is a longtime state appointee who worked in Illinois State government for more than 29 years. Osman currently serves on eight other boards and commissions. They are: Environmental Justice Commission, Hispanic Employment Plan Advisory Council, Housing Task Force, Illinois River Coordinating Council, Military Economic Development, Mississippi River Coordinating Council, Move Over Task Force, and the State Workers Compensation commission.
Although the State has several commissions addressing the concerns of many ethnic groups including five for African Americans, two for Asian Americans, one for the Holocaust, one for Hispanics, and one for Native Americans, he has left completely vacant the 31-member commission for Muslims, and never proposed the creation of a commission addressing Arab American interests.
Here’s a look at some of the Muslim and Arab appointments to the state commissions.
Omer Osman will serve as Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).* Osman has over 29 years of experience in the civil engineering and management field at IDOT. In his most recent role as Deputy Secretary for the Office of Project Implementation, he is responsible for guiding day-to-day program delivery and developing both short- and long-term technical policies and procedures. Prior to his current position, Osman served as the Director of Highways, Deputy Director of Region 5 and District Four Project Implementation and Operations Engineer. He has been an integral member of the statewide Diversity and Recruitment Team that had managed to increase and integrate a diverse population of IDOT’s technical staff. Osman received his Master of Science in civil engineering from Bradley University and his Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Southern University.
• Ali-Mirjat, Mubarek, Aging Council, Appointed in 2014 expired 2019
• Irani, Kaizad, Agriculture Education Committee, Appointed July 2019
• Fahmy, Abdel, Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Advisory Council, Appointed by state statute
• Rana, Nasiurddin, Comprehensive Health Insurance Board, Appointed 2013
• Pasha, Zoubida, Developmental Disabilities, Appointed 2017
• Osman, Omer, Environmental Justice Commission & Hispanic Employment & Housing Task Force, Il River Coordinating Council, Military Economic Development, Mississippi River Coordinating Council, Move Over Task Force, State Workers Compensation, Tollway Highway Authority, IDOT Sec of Transportation, All positions appointed & filled by State Statute
• Abedi, Syed, Housing Task Force Appt 2019
• Shadid, Gary, Ex-officio by statute
• Labadie, Sarah, Board of Education and Community College Board, Appt 2019 by Speaker Michael J. Madigan
• Goyal, Shami, Dr., State Medical Disciplinary Board, 2019 May 6, appointed by Gov. Rauner but no longer on the commission.
• Maloof, David, Rewal Estate Admin and Disciplinary board, appointed in 2018
• Tinwalla, Dr. Abdi, appt by the Illlinois Attorney General
• Sharma, Subhash, SIU Board, 2019
• Sayed, Dilaria, Discrimination and Hate Crimes Commission, April 8, 2021 appointed by Gov. Pritzker.
• Arain, Mohammed, IDPH Advisory Board 2010
• Sameer Vohra, (SIU MD) (Indian American) State Board of Health, Rural Affairs Council, Appointed Jan 1, 2020, and Feb 21, 2020
• Mirza, Ali, UIUC Student body, July 2020 elected by student body
TAGS: Governor, J.B. Pritzker, Illinois, Arabs, Muslims, campaign promise, appointments, state commissions, state boards, Illinois Hate Crimes Commission, no appointments,
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. His mainstream political columns are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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