Three officials who defended community honored by American Arab Chamber
More than 200 Arab and Muslim community leaders attended the annual American Arab Chamber of Commerce “Action” Awards dinner. Action Awards were presented to three public officials who went out of their way to defend the rights of Arab and Muslim Americans in Chicago and Cook County, Chicago Alderwoman Silvana Tabares, Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
By Ray Hanania
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce presented their annual “Action” Awards to three public officials who have supported the Arab and Muslim community’s needs during a dinner Thursday in Hickory Hills.
Chamber President Hassan Nijem presented “Action” Awards to 23rd Ward Alderwoman Silvana Tabares, 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez, and Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas.
Nijem welcomed more than 200 attendees to the dinner event held at Aladdin’s Banquets and said each official helped the community in different but important ways.
Nijem said Lopez was instrumental in helping to stop Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s racist crackdown on Arab and Muslim owned gas stations and grocery stores in Chicago.
“The mayor created a 10-person Task Force of Police and inspectors who were given orders to close Arab owned stores believing wrongly that it might help undermine street gang related violence because the stores are open 24 hours,” Nijem explained.
“More than 125 stores were closed for no reason at all for several months. When we raised the issue and demanded that Lightfoot not target us in such a discriminatory manner, Alderman Lopez was one of the first to stand with us threatening to convene a council committee investigation. As a consequence of that action, and our protests, the city lifted the closure order and all of the stores were re-opened.”
Nijem said that since the incident that began in June and ended in September, inspectors have come to the stores and respectfully have offered to help stores work through any existing code problems. Nijem said that between Tabares and Lopez, “they helped save more than 2,800 jobs that would have been lost with the store closures” not to mention the financial impact on the business owners.
Lopez defended Arab American business and criticized Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her administration for targeting Arab American store owners in a misguided attempt to fight street gang violence.
“I am honored to be here with you tonight … For standing with this community. For standing with Arab Americans fighting for what all of us so often take for granted. You are just as much a part of our society, our cultures and our communities as is anyone else,” Lopez said in accepting the American Arab Chamber of Commerce Action Award for 2021.
“It is amazing that the mayor of the City of Chicago, my friend, my good friend, Lori Lightfoot, chose to put politics ahead of what was right. That she was willing to cause more than $10 million of economic pain to the Arab American community for the sole purpose of trying to look as though she was doing something against violence. That is shameful. That is disgraceful. That is ugly.”
Lopez whose ward has been a target of Mayor Lightfoot’s redistricting plans to undermine his leadership said that government “owes its responsibilities to every community including to Arab Americans” and that Arab Americans should not surrender to politicians who ignore their rights.
“That is not how to bring people together. That is not how you unite communities like Englewood, like Back of the Yards. Like Brighton Park or Gage Park,” Lopez said referring to Lightfoot’s crackdown closing more than 125 Arab businesses.
“You unite by showing what you have in common. By showing where your loves are in alignment. Your love of family. Your love of business. Your love of community. The love that you have for each other. And the love that you show to those that you don’t even know. That is what we have in common. That is why we are here. Because though many of you may not know me, you embraced me tonight and I am returning that love to you as we continue to fight so that we are never in the predicament where 2,000 people have to go home in fear that they are out of a job, that their families are in peril.”
Nijem said that Tabares, with the help of Alderman Matt O’Shea of the 19th Ward, help prevent the closure of more than 22 Arab owned Hookah lounges.
“Alderman Tabares was critical in ensuring that a dozen Arab owned businesses in Chicago would remain open after legislation was introduced to prevent the sale of flavored tobacco to individuals under the age of 21,” Nijem said.
“We support the flavored tobacco ban but the ordinance would have forced the closure of 22 Hookah lounges that only cater to adults.”
Tabares thanked the Chamber for working with her to help defend Arab and Muslim businesses.
“I am so honored to be here and thank you for this award. It is very important to listen to the chamber and their concerns when it comes to businesses because we want to make sure we improve economic development and bring more jobs to our communities,” said Tabares, who began her career as a journalist and was later elected to the Illinois State Legislature before becoming the alderwoman of the 23rd Ward.
“Count on me as a partner. Count on me as someone to continue a relationship and make sure your voices are heard in the Chicago City Council.”
Chamber officials presented an “Action” Award to Pappas at the dinner for her work in refunding more than $200 million to Cook County taxpayers that included more than $1.3 million for Arab American and Muslim property owners.
“Treasurer Pappas created a working group that did outreach to Arab and Muslim community organizations, mosques and churches helping our community complete the refund process,” Nijem said.
“We hosted about 20 events with Pappas and were able to identify $1.3 million in property taxes that can be refunded. No one has ever reached out to our community to include us in their programs. Pappas did.”
Nijem said that Pappas has refunded more than $100 million to all taxpayers in Cook County, noting that she has translated her entire website into multiple languages including into Arabic.
“That is an absolute first and we appreciate her for treating our community the way every community should be treated,” Nijem said.
Pappas thanked the American Arab Chamber and said the program to refund overpaid taxes has been very successful in the Arab community in a large part because of the support she has received from the Chamber and from Nijem.
“There are 126 different spoken languages in Cook County. I can’t come into this community unless I have someone with me who has the pulse of the community. And early on, we picked Hassan Nijem. He is actually my Cook County Deputy Arab Treasurer,” Pappas said noting he helped her target Arab and Muslim organizations to organize tax refund workshops,” Pappas said in accepting the Chamber’s 2021 Action Award.
“We got invited to 120 mosques and guess who called me in last week? The Cardinal Blase Cupich invited us into all of the Catholic Churches. There is no race, color, creed, or nationality when it comes to your money.”
Pappas noted that her website at CookCountyTreasurer.com has been completely converted into Arabic, among many other languages, to help communities access the wide range of services her offices provide to property owners.
Anyone can go to her website and check their property to determine if they are owed money, Pappas said.
“We are very honored to have all of our guests here today. Alderwoman Silvana Tabares. Alderman Raymond Lopez. And, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas,” Nijem said.
“These are true representatives who care not only about the rights and needs of Arab and Muslim Americans. But they care about all of the residents in Cook County and in their wards.”
Nijem thanked Chamber board members including former Chicago Board of Education member Anna Mustafa, Mazen Dola, Maher Khattab, Saad Malley, Mohammed Jasser, Mohammed Abdullah, Tareq AlBitar, Aminah Aldeek, Hana Abudayeh, Radi Abuhashish, Ibrahim Fattah, Samer Khatib, Lena Matariyeh and Nemer Ziyad.
He also acknowledged many officials and candidates who attended the Action Award dinner event including Associate Judge Rouhy Shalabi, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara Jr., who is a candidate for Chicago Mayor, Mohamed Faheem who is a candidate for Congress in the 8th District, Brian Bernardoni Roberts Park Fire Protection District Trustee, and Dr. Willie Wilson who was accompanied by many of the volunteers who have helped him distribute food, facemasks and supplies to needy families during the COVID pandemic.
Also attending was Democratic Township Committeewoman Blanca Vargas and Elizabeth Ryan who is running for Cook County Circuit Court judge, and Rob Cruz candidate for Congress in the 6th District.
The event was held at Aladdin Banquets, 8821 W 87th St. Hickory Hills, Nijem said for a very specific reason. “Our first priority is to always try to give our Arab and Muslim businesses our support when we can. We wanted to hold this event at Aladdin because it is Arab-owned by Wally Aiyash. We should always try to support our community when we host events.”
The event also featured Middle Eastern food catered by Al-Bawadi Restaurant, Nijem noted.
Nijem said the American Arab Chamber is working with the Arab American Democratic Club to host a breakfast Appreciate dinner on Sunday Jan. 30, 2022 at Nikos Restaurant to outreach to all of the Democratic candidates seeking public office. The Arab American Democratic Club website is AADCIL.com.
The Chamber website is www.AACCUSA.org.