CHICAGO: Mayoral candidate Raymond Lopez Wednesday denounced Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s targeting of the Arab and Muslim community as “disgusting and tasteless,” and vowed to launch a probe into her actions which has cost hundreds of job losses and millions in income and tax revenue.
Lopez added that his administration would restore the community’s festivals and cultural presence in America’s second largest city.
Last June, a task force of inspectors and police forcibly closed more than 150 Arab- and Muslim-owned businesses in what critics called a misguided effort by Lightfoot to crack down on street-gang violence. Because most of the stores are open 24 hours a day, street-gang members would often run into them in the middle of the night to escape police when violence took place.
Lopez, the only Hispanic who has announced his candidacy in the February 28, 2023 Chicago election, made these comments during a live radio interview on “The Ray Hanania Show” which broadcasts live on the US Arab Radio Network and is sponsored by Arab News.
“I am absolutely a friend to the Arab community not just in word but in action and I will continue to be that friend,” Lopez said, adding he would work with Arab Americans to bring back the Arabesque Festival which was closed by former Mayor Rahm Israel Emanuel in 2011, and was sure Lightfoot’s discriminatory policies would also end.
“That just shows how tone deaf and clueless Lori Lightfoot is in addressing the number-one issue in the city of Chicago which is the out-of-control crime and violence that we see, and to blame the owners of gas stations and stores simply because that’s where the crime ended up at, in their parking lots or next to them in their sidewalks. That was a complete miscalculation on her part. I think personally she felt the Arab community would be an easy community to target in the Black community because she was just fueling the fires that exist with the animosity that is in some neighborhoods.”
Chicago has seen a surge in street-gang gun-related homicides during Lightfoot’s three years in office and the mayor has been unable to stop the rise.
Lopez joined Arab businesses last September to denounce the mayor’s actions, forcing her to reopen all the stores the following day after many were closed for more than three months.
“All the violations, the complaints and questions vanished overnight,” Lopez observed, after the Arab community held a press conference to expose her actions.
“We know the Arab community is just as integral as any immigrant community. This week we are celebrating the Polish community, my Mexican community … we did the Irish community in March. We are all part of the fabric. And to just pull on one thread and say they are the problem is disgusting and tasteless to say the least.”
Lopez also promised to work with the Arab and Muslim community to restore the annual Chicago Arab festival, Arabesque, which was shut down by Lightfoot’s predecessor Emanuel in one of his first official acts after becoming mayor in 2011.
Emanuel then proceeded to close the Chicago Arab Advisory Commission and excluded Arabs from his administration. Lightfoot had promised to work with Arab Americans during her campaign to succeed Emanuel, but did nothing when she was elected mayor in May 2019.
“We know that the Arab community and the Arab voter is oftentimes taken for granted. I for one grew up with Arabs in my neighborhood ... We came up together in high school. I am no stranger to the Arab community. And I look forward to when we can have the Arab festival again and we can celebrate, which is what I believe … is the quintessential Chicago nature, to celebrate our ethnic diversity to invite all communities to taste our food, hear our music and enjoy our good company,” Lopez said.
“And there is no reason that the Arab community can’t be the same part of that tradition as the Mexican community, the Chinese community that (have) their festivals … the Korean community and so on and so forth like so many communities throughout the city. We need to get back to celebrating our diversity because truly that is the one thing that we all have in common. We are all from everywhere. There is no reason to discriminate and pick sides. We can live under one roof and enjoy each other, and we will do that again soon.”
Lopez said “there should be a place for everyone at the city government table” and they should feel welcome as is the case now in Chicago.
“And the millions of dollars that you know that those closures cost not only the city of Chicago but (also) the small business owners who were impacted, and for no reason other than (to) try to find something wrong, try to find something to write a ticket on, try to find something to justify this action. Government should not be in the business of victimizing people just to create a narrative,” Lopez said.
Lopez acknowledged the closures cost the city of Chicago millions of dollars in lost tax revenues for gasoline and sales. It also resulted in the layoff of hundreds of employees who worked at the Arab-owned stores.
Hassan Nijem of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce said that many of the Arab-owned gas station owners lost on average $70,000 a month in revenues. Many of the stores were closed for two to three months and have never been reimbursed by the city for the lost income.
Lopez said he would join other aldermen including Gilbert Villegas and Silvana Tabares in conducting a public forum on Monday, May 9, at Chicago’s Islamic Community Center of Illinois to probe Lightfoot’s actions against Arab and Muslim business owners.
He also said the Chicagoland news media needs to do a better job scrutinizing Lightfoot’s actions including against minority groups like Arab Americans.
Lightfoot has declined requests for interviews from Arab News.
The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News live every Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST in Detroit on WNZK AM 690, in Washington D.C. on WDMV AM 700. It is rebroadcast on Thursdays at 12 noon in Chicago on WNWI AM 1080.
For the podcast and more information on the radio show visit: ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.
Listen to the Ray Hanania podcast here.