Michigan doctor believes US ready for first Muslim governor

In this Aug. 8, 2017 photo, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed high-fives supporter Sonique Watson in Detroit. The 32-year-old liberal doctor is mounting a strong bid to become the first Muslim governor in the US. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Updated 15 September 2017
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Michigan doctor believes US ready for first Muslim governor

DETROIT, US: Perhaps no state has embraced the political outsider as much as Michigan, where a venture capitalist won the last two governor’s elections and a real estate baron carried the presidential vote. Now Abdul El-Sayed is putting that affinity for newcomers to the test.
El-Sayed, a 32-year-old liberal doctor in Detroit, is mounting a surprisingly robust bid to become the nation’s first Muslim governor.
Democratic leaders are stunned by the sudden emergence of the former Rhodes scholar, who served as Detroit public health director, in the primary field after he quickly raised $1 million.
He is one of four viable Democrats and, for now, three Republicans in a race that his party considers a must-win to re-establish itself after eight years of GOP control of state government.
Michigan has one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, but is it ready to elect a Muslim as chief executive? El-Sayed says yes, though he insists the election will be about his qualifications and grassroots movement.
“I think folks are looking for something fresh, new, exciting, competent. And we offer that,” said the self-assured El-Sayed, who emphasizes his work rebuilding Detroit’s health department after the city’s bankruptcy.
Political insiders are not sure about the religious complexities but are impressed by his fundraising.
“No one expected El-Sayed to raise that kind of money — no one,” said pollster Ed Sarpolus.
The governor’s race in 2018 is wide open with Republican incumbent Rick Snyder, a former business executive, leaving after two terms. Before Republicans swept to power in 2010, Democrats held the governor’s office and one house of the Legislature.
The diverse Democratic field includes front-runner Gretchen Whitmer, a former legislative leader who has raised $1.5 million and has secured labor union support; Shri Thanedar, an immigrant entrepreneur from India who has given his campaign $3.3 million but remains largely unknown for now; and Bill Cobbs, an African-American former Xerox executive who has not collected much money.
The leading GOP contender is state Attorney General Bill Schuette, who joined the race this week. Other Republicans running are Dr. Jim Hines, who has given $438,000 of his own money, and conservative state Sen. Patrick Colbeck.
El-Sayed, the son of Egyptian immigrants, was born in Michigan and grew up in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township. His father and stepmother are mechanical engineering professors who now work as college administrators.
El-Sayed has been known for his speaking ability since his days at the University of Michigan, where he gave the senior speech to fellow graduates. The commencement speaker that day, former President Bill Clinton, said he wished “every person in the world” who is pessimistic about the nation’s religious divide could have heard El-Sayed, who talked about the many opportunities at hand to “change the world.”
Potentially the most progressive candidate in the field, El-Sayed frequently touts government’s ability to help people and cites his initiatives in Detroit to provide free glasses to schoolchildren and increase lead exposure tests.
He criticizes unauthentic “corporate, bought-out” politicians and disavows corporate PAC donations. His fundraising base is dominated by physicians, tech executives and financiers, many from out of state.
El-Sayed is hoping to benefit from an energized Democratic backlash against President Donald Trump, who narrowly carried Michigan in 2016, and from the repercussions of a lead contamination scandal in the city of Flint blamed primarily on Snyder’s administration. Trump has imposed a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and blamed “both sides” for violence between white supremacists and their opponents in Virginia.
“What better way to send Donald Trump a message than to elect a millennial Muslim guy in a state that he barely took?” said El-Sayed, a former college lacrosse player with a stocky build.
Just two Muslims serve in Congress, neither with an Arabic surname: Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana. El-Sayed and Deedra Abboud, a Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, are among the first Muslims to pursue major statewide offices.
In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 42 percent of US adults said they would be less likely to support a Muslim presidential candidate. El-Sayed, who has faced attacks on social media because of his Islamic faith, keeps his campaign office location secret for safety reasons.
While Whitmer is considered the Democratic favorite, political analysts believe El-Sayed could appeal to anti-establishment activists and backers of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in next summer’s primary.
One voter whom El-Sayed has won over is Sonique Watson, a 26-year-old professional blogger from Detroit who said she felt “a spark” because he seems more like a public servant than a politician.
Yet there are skeptics.
Former Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Whitmer backer, said he questions nominating a candidate without “serious experience” in office.
“There’s no reason for people to fool around here and take a flyer with someone who can give a nice speech but really is not ready for the job,” he said.
Jermain Jones, a 37-year-old Detroit-area political organizer, said it is impossible to overlook the impact of El-Sayed’s religion in rural or blue-collar areas.
“Even the Democratic establishment I don’t think is ready to push an Islamic candidate in a state like Michigan,” Jones said. “Islamophobia is strong in America right now.”


Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019
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Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.