THE BLOG

Promises Made in Dubai Means Daley has to Step-Up Commitment to Arabs

03/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I read about Mayor Daley detailing to Mohammad Bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, all the things he has done to help Arabs living in Chicago, I thought this a good time to ask for more.

In truth, Daley has done much to help Arabs of Chicago, but not nearly as much as he has done for other ethnic groups like the Irish, Polish, Italians and Jews. So I came up with a quick list of things Daley can do to better help Arabs in his city.

There are 1,200 honorary streets in the City of Chicago recognizing the roles of the city's ethnic leaders.

For example, Chicago's Jewish community has eight honorary streets, including: Golda Meir, who said Palestinians don't exist; Yitzhak Rabin who began his career breaking Palestinian arms but later signing a peace deal with Yasser Arafat only to be assassinated by an Israeli fanatic; David Ben Gurion, who oversaw the plan to expel Palestinian civilians from their homes and expunge their villages like a Russian Pogrom; And, one street called "Jerusalem 3000," in honor of Israel's political claims.

Chicago has only two honorary streets named for Arabs. Samir Odeh, a long time Palestinian activist who died in 1994, has a half block on 63rd Street. The other one is named for Bill Farhan, who I don't know well despite covering Chicago's City Hall and Arab community for 32 years.

On his return to Chicago, Daley could rename State Street "Arafat Street," or Michigan Avenue where Palestinians often protest the Gaza killings "Jerusalem is Palestinian Too Street."

Too much to ask? Well, how about this? Chicago has a population of 3 million people and there are, according to Daley's statement in Dubai this week, 230,000 Arabs living in the city. That is about 7.6 percent of the population.

Shouldn't Arabs get 7.6 percent of the city's 35,000 primary jobs (excluding the schools, Parks, Reclamation, CTA, Housing, and City Colleges). That would be 2,660 jobs. I'd settle for half that. We have about 225 on the city payroll including police.

There are 50 Aldermen in the Chicago City Council representing 50 wards with 60,000 citizens each. By my count, Arabs should have at least three aldermen. I'd settle for just one, mayor. They don't have to be elected. Daley can appoint them at any time.

The city has dozens of major agencies. Not one of them is headed by an Arab American, if you don't count the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, which does little and is made up of all Arabs often outside of the community's activism center.

There are 40 major city agencies that Daley controls and satellite agencies like the school board, the parks, police, fire, museum and transit.

There is one Arab member of the Park District Board. There was an Arab member of the school board, until she was ousted in 1992. By Daley.

The schools have 408,000 students, of which 88 percent are Black or Hispanic. Of the remaining 60,000 students, about 18,000 are Arab. The schools have only one Arab principal and 12 teachers. We should have far more.

Chicago has designated November "Arab heritage Month." While the mayor throws an invitation-only buffet each year, it is low key. Daley doesn't invite the media and Arab Heritage Month gets no media coverage.

While the Irish, Polish, Italians, Mexicans and Blacks have parades, Arabs do not. In fact, although Chicago has more ethnic festivals than any other city in the country, it wasn't until two years ago (Daley's 18th year in office) that Chicago hosted an Arab Festival. Well, it wasn't really a "festival," but more like a downtown block party held at lunch time when most Arabs couldn't attend. Rumor has it Daley plans to kill that "festival."

"Taste of Chicago," one of the largest food festivals in the world, showcases restaurants from almost every culture. Except Arabs. There are Turks and Iranians, whom Daley probably thinks are Arabs. Hey. Daley once said he supported a "Pakistinian State" at a press conference I attended. No one from Chicago's Jewish community protested because I guess they figured that's where a Palestinian State should go.

Why is Daley in Dubai, acting like Khalil Gibran?

Chicago is in financial turmoil and overwhelmed by corruption. And that's not good for a city in a tight race for the 2016 Olympics. Yet, out of nearly 350 members of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee, only two are Arab. Based on the population, there should be 30 Arab members. None are Arab Christian, a topic we're not allowed to discuss since no one in the city actually recognizes the disappearing Arab minority.

So mayor, we Arabs are excited about your dedication to the health and well-being of Chicago's American Arab community. We await your return where we hope you will fulfill your promises to the Arab World. And, ahem, to us, too!

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Arab American journalist who covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 until 1991. He is the author of the history book "Arabs of Chicagoland," and hosts a morning radio talk show. Hanania can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.)