YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

In O.C., `Extremist' Charge Riles a Muslim Republican

Anaheim council candidate Bill Dalati defends his ties to a U.S. Islamic rights group.

October 09, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

A state Republican party leader has roiled a sleepy Anaheim City Council race with allegations that an Arab American candidate is anti-American and supports extremist groups.

The accusations against Bill Dalati, an insurance agent who was born in Syria and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987, surfaced last week in a letter from former state Republican Party chairman Shawn Steel and on various websites. On the OC Blog, a politically conservative website, the headline atop the letter opposing Dalati's candidacy read "Something Scary in Anaheim."

Steel, the state GOP leader from 2001 to 2003, said he wrote the letter to alert fellow conservatives that Dalati -- a moderate Republican -- could be a "Manchurian candidate."

"He looks good on the outside, but the guy could be an extremist," Steel said Friday. "Is his primary concern to fix the potholes and improve the city, or does he really have an agenda here to support extremist organizations and cloak them with respectability?"

In the letter, Steel questioned Dalati's connections to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, later calling CAIR a "pretty radical, nasty group." He also cited Dalati's involvement with an Anaheim rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict, and his endorsement of Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, a Democrat.

Dalati, who came to the U.S. in 1984 and has been an Anaheim resident for 12 years, said he was frustrated and angered by the letter.

"I need to be out on the campaign trail, not worrying about all this negative stereotyping," Dalati said. "People should look at the issues, not where I came from. Everybody came from somewhere. It's clear that my faith and my heritage are the reason they don't want me around."

Dalati, a 41-year-old Muslim, doesn't deny that he supports CAIR, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country and largely viewed as a mainstream organization. Local Republican law enforcement officials such as Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca have attended the local chapter's fundraisers.

Hussam Ayloush, director of CAIR's Southern California chapter, in Anaheim, said Steel had a history of making "Islamaphobic" comments.

"The people of Anaheim would appreciate it if outsiders with personal political agendas would keep their divisive political views away from the city," said Ayloush, who a few years ago filed a defamation suit against Steel that was later dismissed. "For Muslims to witness what is happening in this campaign, it only makes us realize what it must have been like for Catholics, Jews and African Americans to run for office."

Dalati also defended his association with the rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

"I'm not against Jews or Christians," he said. "I don't support Hezbollah. I just don't believe wars solve any issues; love does."

Dalati said he donated money to McKinney because of her stance against the Iraq war. In the 2000 presidential election, Dalati said he supported President Bush and convinced many fellow Arab Americans to vote with him. Dalati said he did not endorse Bush in 2004.

"I support the president in so many ways, but not on this issue," he said. "I don't believe in war. I don't believe in the killing of innocent people. I believe in justice and dialogue."

Steel's letter, written to local Republican leaders, was posted on the OC Blog by former state Sen. John Lewis (R-Orange), who is a consultant for one of Dalati's opponents, Councilman Bob Hernandez. Five others, including incumbent Richard Chavez, are also in the running for two council seats, which are elected citywide.

Hernandez said he had nothing to do with Steel's letter or its posting, but didn't distance himself from its sentiment. He said he was particularly offended by Dalati's connection to McKinney, whom he called "rabidly left-leaning."

"This has nothing to do with ethnicity, religion or the way you think politically," Hernandez said. "It has to do with judgment and who the people want to represent them. [Dalati] does not represent the mainstream thinking in Anaheim."

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, a former Assembly speaker and a Republican, said he didn't believe the attack on Dalati was warranted.

"I don't see the substantiation to the aggressive charges made against Mr. Dalati," he said. "It's kind of sad to see them. In my dealings with him, he's been nothing more than a businessman in our community."

Anaheim Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who has endorsed Dalati, said he was the victim of an "underhanded and bigoted" attack.

"Those who attack him for his heritage and his faith misrepresent who he is and what he has done," said Galloway, a Democrat.

Dalati, who has also been endorsed by Anaheim Councilman Richard Chavez, a Democrat, has invested $200,000 of his own money in the council race. In addition to his insurance business, Dalati remodels and sells run-down houses in town.

Although he has never run for council, Dalati is well known in the community of 350,000, having served on the city's culture and heritage commission and hosting his own television talk show on a local cable channel.

Dalati, part of a large Arab and Muslim population in Anaheim, said he ran for council in part to be a role model for his community.

"I wanted to give them hope and empower them," he said. "We love this country, we would die for this country. It's given us more than our country. We want to make it better."

Los Angeles Times Articles