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Candidates Clash With Arab-Americans At Forum in New York

posted on: Oct 26, 2010

The controversial planned Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero took center stage at a “Candidates Night 2010” forum in Bay Ridge last Thursday.

The lively event at the Bay Ridge Manor was also a big step forward for the growing Brooklyn immigrant community and the forum’s host, the Arab American Association of New York.

The forum’s moderator, Association Director Linda Sarsour, emphasized the “Immigrants Vote” theme at the well-attended event. “It is our civic obligation to be politically engaged,” she said about the Arab American community. “We must focus on civic engagement. It’s all about investing in our local community,” she said.

“Your voice does count,” said Association President Dr. Ahmad Jaber, a Palestinian obstetrician and gynecologist who immigrated to Brooklyn in the 1970s. “We still have the baggage from back home. Voting here is new for us. Yes, we are progressing. But we still have much work to do.”

“Dr. Jaber, you’re a leader who has made a difference,” said state Sen. Marty Golden, recalling the Unity Task Force formed here just before the 9/11 attacks and how it has eased tensions since the attack.

Grimm, McMahon Against ‘Park51’

“I fought in the Mideast to save Kuwait and Saudi Arabia,” said Republican-Conservative candidate Michael Grimm, a 1991 Gulf War veteran running against incumbent Congressman Michael McMahon. “Our humanity and family values bring us together. We here should be the model for the nation.”

When asked by an Arab-American law enforcement officer about his position on the Park51 Muslim community center on Park Place near Ground Zero, Grimm said, “I’m against building that structure. We can build it elsewhere.”

“Over 70 Muslims died in the attacks,” said a woman at the forum. “My son was a first responder. He served his country with great pride. I have four nephews who, as U.S. Marines, served in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

A police officer in the audience said to Grimm, “The center is not a mosque. It’s a civic center that you and I can visit. There’s a strip club two blocks from the site, what about that?” But calling the attack site “hallowed ground,” Grimm said, “We can agree to disagree while still respecting our views.”

“A hundred years ago Washington Street in lower Manhattan was the center of our Arab immigrant world,” added the police officer. “We had a prayer center in [what later became] the World Trade Towers.”

Of the questions, Sarsour said, “We need to allow the candidates to state their positions. If we don’t like what they say, don’t vote for them.”

Congressman McMahon also opposes Park51, but said Grimm has made it “a political issue. It’s not a question of religious rights, but of those whose hearts were broken.”

Ortiz Supports Center

“I do support the mosque and center by Ground Zero,” said Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who also supports tough immigration reform but opposes the controversial Arizona law.

Republican-Conservative Assembly candidate Brian Doherty of Bay Ridge spoke, but his opponent, incumbent Assemblyman Dov Hikind, was absent. Assemblyman Peter Abbate, whose challenger Peter Cipriano was absent, offered funding to the association.

Assemblywoman Janele Hyer-Spencer and GOP-Conservative candidate Nicole Malliotakis verbally jousted over the MTA, Albany dysfunction, high taxes and spending. Malliotakis opposes the Park51 site.

“Upon taking office, the Arab-American community reached out to me. Since then we’ve had an amazing relationship,” Hyer-Spencer, who secured state funds for the association, said. “What we have here is a template of success for the state and the nation.”

Harold Egeln
Brooklyn Daily Eagle