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ORANGE COUNTY ELECTIONS

Dalati's GOP spat ends with a new Democrat

Party leaders don't regret their criticism of the Anaheim City Council candidate. They `abandoned me,' he says in switching parties.

November 02, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Acknowledging it might be political suicide, Anaheim City Council candidate Bill Dalati said Wednesday he was leaving the Republican Party after being vilified by prominent GOP leaders as being anti-American and a supporter of extremist groups.

Dalati, an Arab American who had been a Republican since becoming a U.S. citizen 19 years ago, re-registered as a Democrat outside the registrar of voters office.

Even though the council race is nonpartisan, Dalati said he no longer felt comfortable being a Republican.

"This is going to hurt me politically," said Dalati, an insurance agent taking his first run at elective office. "There are a lot more Republicans in Orange County than Democrats. But it wouldn't have been the honest thing to do, to stay in a party that has abandoned me."

The allegations against Dalati, who considered himself a moderate Republican, surfaced last month in a letter to local GOP leaders from former state party Chairman Shawn Steel.

Steel wrote that Dalati could be unfit for office because of his ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, his support of Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney -- a liberal Democrat from Georgia -- and his involvement with a rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Steel said he considered the Islamic council an extremist group.

Steel said Wednesday that Dalati's political future would not be tied to his party affiliation.

"Dalati is free to choose any party he wants to," he said. "But as long as he holds extremist views and embraces extremist causes, he will be a fringe political player. This is not about his religion; it never was. It's about his ideas and behavior."

After he was criticized by Steel and other GOP leaders, Dalati said he expected some support from fellow Republicans, but never received any.

"You feel unwanted," Dalati said. "And the Democrats have tried to help me in any way they can."

In his City Council race, Dalati has been endorsed by Anaheim council members Lorri Galloway and Richard Chavez, both liberal Democrats. Chavez said he wasn't surprised to see Dalati switch parties.

"I think he was very hurt by people he looked up to in the Republican Party," he said. "And they were pretty brutal toward him. I don't blame him for getting out."

County Democratic Chairman Frank Barbaro said he was "proud" to welcome Dalati into the party.

"Political dissent is fine, but overt religious discrimination is not, especially in a place as diverse as Orange County," Barbaro said. "As long as the Republican Party fails to stand up for racial and religious equality, it will continue to be viewed as the last refuge for racism and religious intolerance."

Former state Sen. John Lewis (R-Orange), who posted Steel's letter on a website, said he was not sorry to hear Dalati had left the Republicans.

"We're talking about someone who donated money to Cynthia McKinney, an extremist member of Congress and who organized a demonstration calling America a terrorist nation," said Lewis, a consultant for one of Dalati's opponents. "I guess those kind of people feel more comfortable being a member of the Democratic Party. I say goodbye and good luck to him."

Lewis called the timing of Dalati's announcement, six days before the election, an example of "last-minute, cheap political opportunism."

"Since I posted the Shawn Steel letter, I've never mentioned Bill Dalati's name or even thought about it," he said. "They're the ones who keep calling press conferences."

Dalati said he considered delaying his move until after the election. But he decided to take the advice of Galloway and other local Democrats, who urged him not to wait.

"This might cost me some votes," he said. "But it's better than cheating people. It's not a City Council race anymore. It's about right and wrong."

david.mckibben@latimes.com

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