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Candidate Defended After Extremist Labeling

Community leaders call the act by GOP figures a smear job against the Arab American in O.C.

October 13, 2006|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Standing on the steps of City Hall on Thursday, local religious, civic and ethnic leaders rallied around an Arab American candidate for Anaheim City Council who was vilified last week by state Republican leaders as being anti-American and a supporter of extremist groups.

Bill Dalati, an insurance agent taking his first run at elective office, was joined by about a dozen supporters, most of them community leaders who called on politicians, candidates and their supporters to denounce what they called an attack that played to race and religion.

"We detest, we abhor the kind of elements that have been injected into this race," said Amin David, head of Los Amigos, an Anaheim-based Latino advocacy group. "It's disappointing that a person's faith and heritage are still an issue."

The allegations against Dalati, a moderate Republican, surfaced last week in a letter to local Republican leaders from former state Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel and on various websites. One such posting was by former state Sen. John Lewis (R-Orange), a consultant for one of Dalati's opponents.

Steel told Anaheim voters that Dalati's ties to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, his support of a Democratic congresswoman and his involvement with a rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict could make him unfit for public office.

Steel said he considered CAIR an extremist group. The largest Muslim civil rights group in the country, CAIR is widely viewed as mainstream and helps the FBI in combating terrorism. It enjoys the political support of figures such as Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona.

Councilman Bob Hernandez, the Dalati opponent for whom Lewis is a consultant, criticized Dalati for endorsing Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, a liberal Democrat who has been critical of President Bush and the Iraq war. Dalati "does not represent mainstream thinking in Anaheim," he said.

David said he was pleased to see the number of community leaders coming to the defense of Dalati, 41, who was born in Syria and became a U.S. citizen.

"We're making strides," said David of Los Amigos. "In yesteryear, you wouldn't have seen this type of coalition condemning these kind of charges against a Muslim."

Hussam Ayloush, director of CAIR's Anaheim-based Southern California chapter, said he was upset that such a rally had to be held.

"This being an issue five years after 9/11 is disappointing," Ayloush said. "We thought this kind of thing was behind us. But I guess we still have a lot of work to do, explaining that Muslims are God-loving, caring people."

David and Ayloush were joined by labor leaders and representatives of the Orange County-based Arab-American Republicans and the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance.

"Today, it's the Muslim community being assailed," said Jason Lacsamana, a spokesman with the Asian alliance. "Tomorrow, it could be us again."

City Council members Lorri Galloway and Richard Chavez, both Democrats who have endorsed Dalati, also attended the rally. The gathering drew nearly a dozen news outlets. Dalati seemed almost embarrassed by all the attention: "I'm sorry I started all this trouble."

But Dalati, part of a large Arab and Muslim population in Anaheim, doesn't appear to be hiding from the controversy.

On Wednesday night, he joined a candidates forum, delivering a spirited defense of his religion and his heritage during his opening statement.

But he and the other six candidates spent the entire 75-minute debate discussing potholed and congested streets, affordable housing and police response times.

At the end of the night, Dalati acknowledged that recent events had taken a toll.

"I'm sorry if I came out a little strong," he said. "But I've been through hell these last few days."

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dave.mckibben@latimes.com

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