CHICAGO: Arab and Muslim Americans have been the victims of “bad policies” by Chicago’s mayors over recent years but two of the leading candidates running in the Feb. 28, 2023, election vow to change that if they win.
Alderman Raymond Lopez and Dr. Willie Wilson told Arab News in separate interviews that incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot has disrespected Arab and Muslim Americans. They said she has failed the people of the city on major policies including public safety, rebuilding the economy and bringing people together.
Lopez said that whoever becomes mayor of America’s third largest city, “must fight for everyone’s dream.” They also blasted Lightfoot’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, who was named last year by President Joe Biden as the US ambassador to Japan.
“I believe that we must fight for everyone’s opportunity to access that dream because people are here in this country for a reason. Whether they came from the Middle East, or Central America, or Eastern Europe or Asia, everyone came to this country for a reason and they all came here for the same shot that I have enjoyed in my three generations here in this country and that so many others do as well,” Lopez said.
“That is why I fight for communities that are oftentimes picked on or targeted by bad policies. As we saw and you alluded to earlier with Lori Lightfoot last year targeting several dozen Arab-owned businesses simply because they were Arab-owned, for no other purpose other than that. So to lay violence at their feet and not the perpetrators of the violence in the communities that those store owners were trying to serve, that doesn’t make sense to me.
“And as a leader, as an alderman and as a mayor, we will make sure that this city is truly inclusive and welcoming to everyone and recognize the need to spread the wealth to everyone among all people including to our Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Elected to the Chicago City Council in 2015 and reelected in 2019, Lopez represents Chicago’s 15th Ward and was among the first to stand up with Arab American businesses when they were being shuttered by Lightfoot in a campaign to confront rising street gang and gun violence that was sweeping the city.
Inspectors for Lightfoot closed dozens of Arab and Muslim stores beginning in June 2021 implying they were responsible for rising violence that has taken the lives of hundreds of city residents.
Data shows 448 people have been killed and 2,352 injured by gun violence in Chicago during the first eight months of 2022.
Lopez acknowledged Arabs and Muslims were “easy targets” to be exploited and blamed by politicians like Lightfoot who want to shift the responsibility for the continued violence rather than pursuing effective policies. He noted the business owners were punished even though they all cooperated with the police to help them pursue the crime suspects, none of whom were Arab or Muslim.
“(If elected) as mayor of this great city, I (will) know (and take into account) that this city is a collection of ethnic neighborhoods and communities. But when Chicago was at its best, is when all of those ethnic communities were engaged and connected to the fifth floor of City Hall, the mayor’s office,” Lopez said, noting he has been accessible to every ethnic and racial group including Arabs and Muslims. That is in contrast to Lightfoot who, in celebrating her one-year anniversary in office last year, refused to grant interviews to White reporters. (Arabs are included in the US Census category as “White” and were denied interview requests, including this reporter.)
“All I can say is this, that when I am mayor, the Arab community will have no greater friend than they have had in the last 20 years. It won’t just be a matter of having one or two individuals stand with me in a photo-op once a year and say ‘look how close we are.’ There will be members of my cabinet who are Arab American and Muslim. There will be members of my administration who will ensure that we are representative and reflective of the Arab and Muslim communities. And I will make sure that our ethnic councils and programs incorporate the Arab American and Muslim traditions that have gone on under the radar without any support from City Hall.”
Lopez said he will reinstate the Arabesque Festival that was cancelled by former mayor Emanuel weeks after he was sworn into office in 2011.
Wilson agreed with Lopez that supporting Arab Americans and Muslims was critical to making Chicago a “better city.”
“I say about Arab Americans and Muslim Americans that, first of all, we have to make sure that they are a part of your administration. You have got to have someone who understands and speak(s) the language and (be) part of the administration that you have in order that you can get things done. You must create equal opportunity and equality for all citizens regardless of what your nationality happens to be,” said Wilson, a wealthy Chicago businessman who has generously provided support to people in need by distributing gas cards, groceries and COVID-19 protective gear such as facemasks.
“We all are brothers and sisters. We all are the same. But we need to be treated the same. In no way in the world I would close down the Muslim businesses or anybody else’s business because you don’t like them ... You are hurting the city. You are hurting the neighborhood. You are hurting everybody.
“What I would do is I will make sure that in my administration will include someone who can represent the Arab or Muslim community to give me feedback on what some of the issues are there ... It wouldn’t be just a token position. It would be a paid position. A real position. It will be a respectful position. It would have input, and somebody who is a part of my administration. It would be someone that is genuine in fixing the problems and bringing us all together. The Arab and Muslim community made a lot of contributions to Chicago. And they should not be left out and they will not be left out.”
Lopez and Wilson also both agreed that stemming the violence and strengthening public safety in Chicago were top priorities. They said that criminals must be held accountable, and that the city must support police and first responders. They said that the city needs to create jobs, provide business support to attack “the root” of the crime problem, and support and improve education.
Lopez and Wilson appeared on The Ray Hanania Radio Show Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, which is broadcast live on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and Washington D.C., and rebroadcast in Chicago on Thursdays at 12 noon on 1080 AM radio.
You can listen to the radio show’s podcast by visiting ArabNews.com/rayradioshow.