Monday, February 27, 2006

Chicago Candidates discuss issues with Arab Media Panel

Candidates discuss issues with Arab media panel

Arab American Media Services
Permission granted to reprint

A dozen candidates for local and statewide office participated in a first-ever public discussion with seven representatives of Chicagoland's major Arab American media at a meeting hosted February 21 by the Southwest Arab American Coalition.

Editors and publishers of both of the city's two largest Arab American newspapers, The Future News and al-Offok al-Arabi, and Yousef Marei the host of Chicago's only Arab radio program "Islamic and Arab Voice of the Chicago Community Radio" participated in the panel that quizzed the candidates. Caise Diab, an award winning freelance reporter and columnist, also served on the media panel. The event was also co-hosted by The Salam Newspaper.

Each visiting candidate for public office was able to address the audience at the Bridgeview Community Center, where SWAC hosts its monthly open meetings, and then addressed questions put to them by the panel.

Several candidates spoke about the importance of addressing the issues facing the Arab American community and promised that their doors would remain open to representatives from the community.

"During my 10 years in the Illinois Senate, I have always worked closely with every community group in my district include the Arab and Muslim community," said State Sen. Christien Radogno, who is the Republican candidate for Illinois treasurer.

Radogno said that when she becomes State Treasurer, succeeding Judy Baar Topinka who is running for governor and was represented at the meeting, that she would work with Arab and Muslim community leaders to use portions of the more than $5.75 billion in state investments to leverage programs

"My record speaks for itself. I was a key sponsor on the Hallal bill and also the Safe Charity Act," Radogno said.

Radogno said that she also would consider leveraging investments to reward banks that offer low-interest credit card rates and review investments in banks that exploited the public's interest with excessively high interest rates.

"It's a free market but those banks that charge excessive credit card interest rates should be looked at closely," Radogno said, noting that credit card debt is one of the primary financial burdens stifling the economy and the public.

Longtime activist Moon Khan spoke on behalf of Topinka, and said that when she is elected governor she will rehire representatives of the various ethnic communities to maintain a liaison relationship with the governor's office.

One of the first acts by Gov. Rod Blagojevich was to eliminate the positions of ethnic liaison, which in many cases were the only offices held by Arab Americans. Blagojevich instead gave lucrative contracts to some Arab American businessmen, who later found themselves under justice department scrutiny for questionable investment practices.

"We cannot afford another four years of Rod Blagojevich," Khan told the audience and panel of Arab American journalists. "The fiscal situation of the state is a mess and that affects all of us."
Khan said that Topinka would restore the state's ethics, hold the line on spending and maintain an open door policy with leaders of the Arab and Muslim American community. Khan himself is Muslim and a clear example of how Topinka has reached out to the Arab and Muslim community.

Other candidates included Andy Martin, a maverick Republican candidate for governor who spoke with a first-person understanding of the issues facing Arabs and Muslims. Martin detailed his extensive knowledge of the Middle East but noted that while the office of Illinois Governor does not address foreign policy issues, "the fact that I am familiar with the issues that concern the Arab American community shows that I can identify with the needs of the Arab and Muslim community."

Martin is a radio talk show host, columnist on Middle East issues and spoke forcefully against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

John Kelly, a businessman and brother-in-law of Arab American activist Robert Sweis, said that the issue of the Middle East would be as much of his concern as bringing fiscal responsibility to the federal government.

Kelly said he would oppose the legislation now being discussed in the U.S. Congress to Declare Palestine a "Terrorist State" and withhold funding.

Kelly's opponent in the race is Congressman Dan Lipinski, who could not attend the meeting.

"We need to end the Iraq war," Kelly said, explaining he supported an exit strategy of three to five years to remove American soldiers. "We can't abandon them but we need to set a timetable for withdrawal."

Radio Host Marei quizzed Kelly on the issue of engaging Arabs and Muslims in the national debate and Kelly vowed his office would be open to all communities, including the Arab and Muslim community.

"As a congressman, my job is to listen to your views and work with you to address your needs," Kelly said.

Republican candidate for Cook County Sheriff Peter Garza was an energetic speaker who promised that his office would be sensitive to the needs of all of the county's residents, regardless of religion, race or ethnicity.

Garza promised that he would hire Arab and Muslims to work in the sheriff's office. The primary responsibility of the sheriff's office is to manage the Cook County Jail, where accused criminals and recently convicted criminals are held pending outcome of their trials or relocation to permanent prison facilities. The Sheriff also provides police services to unincorporated areas of cook county and villages that lack police departments.

Also attending were County Board candidate Michael Hawkins and representatives from other congressional and legislative races in the state.

Participating on the panel representing the region's two largest Arab American newspapers were Shafiq al-Khalil and Mansour Tadros, co-publishers of The Future News Newspaper, and Amanai Ghouleh and Kawthar Othman, editor and publisher of al-Offok al-Arabi newspaper.
Salam Newspaper Publisher Ibrahim Bazed and Editor and attorney Fadi Zanayed were unable to attend but do support all SWAC events. Zanayed is also the publisher of several books on poetry.

Hosting the meeting was Ray Hanania, an award winning columnist with the Southwest News-Herald Newspaper and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. Hanania also hosts a weekly cable TV show on Comcast Cable Channel 19 every Friday night at 8:30 PM. He is a syndicated columnist with the Arab News in Jiddah Saudi Arabia and Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's largest daily newspaper.

SWAC meets every month. The meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is Tuesday March 28 and will feature a showing of the Oscar nominated Palestinian film "Paradise Now."