No one deserves Arab and Muslim American voter support more than Maria Pappas
No one has done more for the Arab and Muslim American community, and all ethnic, religious and racial groups in Cook County than County Treasurer Maria Pappas. Unlike other candidates, she is in the community every year and all year round, and doesn’t just come to the community when it is election time. Pappas is there for us. Arab and Muslim Americans should be there for her.
By Ray Hanania
Right about six months before each election, every four years, candidates reach out to Arab and Muslim Americans and ask them to please endorse them for office.
It always happens at election season. “Can you raise money for us?” they will ask. And “can you help us circulate our petitions and promotional campaign brochures?”
“We’re a friend of the Arab and Muslim community,” they will claim.
But ask them, what have they done during the past four years? Did they get our community members jobs? Did they speak out in support of human rights for Americans killed in foreign countries? Did they ask how they can help Arabs and Muslims save money, receive grants to promote their culture, or did they attend all of our dinners, celebrations and activities when they didn’t need our votes?
For most politicians and candidates, the answer is a loud and resounding “No!” No, because they did none of that. No because they only see Arabs and Muslims today as people who can help them, not the other way around.
But, there are a few exceptions. But one that stands out who is running for re-election on November 8, 2022, is Maria Pappas, the Cook County Treasurer.
Pappas never came to us and said, “Raise me money.” She didn’t wait until just before the election like many candidates who are now running for Secretary of State, for example, and say can you help me get votes by hosting a dinner to honor me.
“Honor me” for what?
Without asking for anything in return, Maria Pappas organized several tax refund workshops in 2021 through the Arab American Chamber of Commerce headed by Hassan Nijem.
She did it for many communities, but she went out of her way to also include Arab and Muslim Americans.
That doesn’t always happen. Usually, Arab and Muslim Americans are shunned by politicians, like in 1998 when billionaire hotel magnate J.B. Pritzker ran for Congress in the 9th Congress district, which was vacated by popular Jewish American Congressman Sidney Yates.
Pritzker was facing off with rival candidates State Senator Howard Carroll and Jan Schakowsky. Carroll received donations from the Arab and Muslim community including from the prominent American Muslim Council (AMC).
That’s usually all that Arabs and Muslims hear from some politicians.
In sharp contrast to the unhesitant xenophobic political campaign rhetoric, Pappas has done the opposite. Not just for Arab and Muslim Americans, but for every ethnic and religious group you can think of. For example, she translated her official website for the Cook County Treasurer into a total of 108 different languages. Polish. German. Lithuanian, Spanish, Hebrew, and, she included Arabic, without being asked. That’s something politicians and candidates like Pritzker don’t do.
Pappas went even further. Without asking for anything, Pappas hired Arab Americans and Muslims to work in her office during her entire career in office, even as a member of the Cook County board of commissioners. She always included Arab Americans in her efforts, along with nearly every ethnic, racial and religious group.
More importantly, Pappas launched a campaign to help Arab and Muslim Americans who overpaid their property taxes over the years because of errant bank calculations, or overpayments payments and double payments, to determine if they overpaid their taxes and helped them get the tax money back.
In a detailed review of the county property taxes, Pappas determined that there was nearly $100 million in property taxes that had been overpaid by all taxpayers.
But she also knew that not every community knew how much was owed to them in property tax overpayments. So she reached out the Arab American Chamber of Commerce and organized tax overpayment review workshops through the Arab and Muslim community and identified nearly $3 million in total property taxes that could be refunded and she helped the Arab and Muslim community complete the paperwork to get those refunds.
Pappas did this with every community, of course. During one week of telephone banking with WLS TV, more than $23 million in refunds were identified for taxpayers to recover through a simple process she put together for the property owners.
Even after she did all that, Pappas never asked for the Arab or Muslim community to raise money for her. She didn’t ask them to pat her on the back, instead, she went out and hired Arab and Muslim Americans and distributed information in all of the languages to help taxpayers recover overpayments or errant payments to the county.
Pappas has been doing this for years. That’s why she is the highest vote getter in Cook County. And that’s why Arab and Muslim Americans are better off today financially than they were before.
Like all Americans, property is one of our most important investments. Paying the proper amount of taxes and not a penny more is important.
Arabs and Muslims, and every ethnic group, should thank Pappas. And the best way to thank her is to vote for her on November 8, 2022. Support her re-election. Show her that her unselfish efforts to help our community should not go acknowledged.
Arab and Muslim Americans, regardless of Party Affiliation, should give Marria Pappas their vote so that she can lead as one of the few real champions of civil rights for everyone, regardless of their ethnic, racial or religious background.
She was first elected as treasurer in 1998.
Pappas has remade the Office of Treasurer for Cook County, the world’s 16th largest government, into a vibrant, service-oriented office that develops and uses the latest technological tools for greater efficiency and economy.
A lawyer with a degree in counseling psychology, her organizational and management skills have drawn the attention of foreign governments that have asked for her help with projects.
The granddaughter of Cretan immigrants, Pappas was born on June 7, 1949. She was raised in Warwood, West Virginia, a town of 2,000 near the coal-mining city of Wheeling. As a child, she studied the Greek language and music. She played the electronic pipe organ, directed the choir and traveled around the country with the all-state band as bass clarinetist.
As a drum majorette, she won nine gold medals in baton-twirling competitions. Education is a life-long passion for Pappas. She earned a degree in Sociology from West Liberty State College, in West Liberty, West Virginia, in 1970, and a degree in Guidance and Counseling at West Virginia University in Morgantown in 1972. She earned a doctorate in Counseling and Psychology at Loyola University of Chicago in 1976, and a law degree at I.I.T. Chicago-Kent College of Law in 1982.
Pappas’ public career grew out of her studies at the Adler Institute of Psychology and a grant from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to work in Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens public housing project. At Altgeld Gardens, she managed the Day One Drug Abuse Center, working to keep young people free of drugs. Testifying in related court cases involving young people led her to visit prisons and jails, which led her to go to law school, which led her to consider public service.
In 1990, she ran for Cook County Commissioner, one of 17 such positions on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which oversees health care, law enforcement and other matters for 5.4 million people. Pappas won, and for eight years represented constituents from Chicago’s North Side and North Shore suburbs. As a county commissioner, she came prepared for every meeting and built a reputation as a budget guru, a fiscal hawk who supported tax cuts, open government and efficiencies in a government that wasn’t efficient. She initiated and successfully fought for human rights ordinances and introduced measures to install reform in areas such as truth-in-lending budgeting, ending no-bid legal and bond-issue contracts, and status reports by outside consultants. She co-authored an extensive study on teenage pregnancy, outlining a program to combat a key societal issue. In 1998, she ran for Cook County Treasurer and won.
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