A week before Anthony Weiner declared his candidacy, over 350 citizens turned out at the first mayoral candidate forum ever held by the Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities. Moderated by NY1's Errol Louis, eight of the mayoral race's leading candidates descended upon New York University ready to pitch their case to a swing-cohort The New York Times has dubbed, "a long-neglected" community.
While all of the candidates were quick to promise their support for recognition of the Eid Holidays in New York Public Schools (an issue currently impacting 1 in 7 students ) Christine Quinn was the only candidate to then reject the more pressing call to action -- the push for an independent inspector general to oversee the NYPD's intelligence operations.
For over a year, the department has infamously recruited and placed informants inside Muslim places of worship, restaurants, hang outs, and student led camping trips to monitor communal discourses. Backed by Police Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, too much was at stake for Quinn to join the others in criticizing the current administration. For a calculating front runner with a slipping favorability rating, that just wouldn't be smart politics to say the least.
John Liu and Bill De Blasio do seem to understand that the NYPD's continued surveillance of mosques and gatherings of Muslim-American students is unacceptable. Such policies have fostered immense distrust and disconnect as the largest police force in the United States has successfully managed to alienate its Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. They promised to amend the situation if elected. But now that Anthony Weiner is the race's new front runner and will likely face a primary run off with Quinn, MASA voters likely won't get to see De Blasio or Liu competing for the position come September. For many in the community, that leaves only one other element of this election to rally behind -- Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin.
Abedin has unparalleled rock star status with the civically engaged Muslim-American youth. In the public realm, being able to find a role model with a dream job that looks like you, with a name like yours, is an ineffably empowering experience for members of a minority group. This time last year when Islamophobes Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) and Louie Gohmert (R-Tex) spearheaded the flak attack on the loyalty of American Muslims serving in government positions, we watched her endure the very false suspicions and personal attacks all too reminiscent of our own experiences coming of age in the post-9/11 world. That's why when Huma goes out to speak to the Muslim community on her husband's behalf, you can be sure she'll pack the house.
It should go without saying that voting for someone based on the color of their skin or profession of faith alone is wrong. Voting for a candidate because his wife happens to have those attributes is just plain absurd. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen, that it won't happen. Indeed, I've spoken to countless MASA students and their parents who now rally behind the Weiner ticket for this very reason. I'm not saying that the Muslim community shouldn't vote for Weiner, just that if they are going to do so, it should be because they understand his policies and believe he is the best candidate in the race on merit. It is an educated electorate's responsibility to go into the voting booth with a clear understanding of how their vote will impact the policies that shape their lives. The rest is details.
That Weiner did not attend the mayoral forum is not the issue. He had yet to declare his candidacy. But why he has yet to directly reach out to the cohort to explain his agenda the way the other candidates have taken the time to do is a nagging mystery. Why anyone would blindly vote for him without a rudimentary understanding of his positions is a bigger one. Perhaps Weiner is trying to have his cake and eat it too. Presuming his Muslim wife will win him the Muslim vote, perhaps he believes it in his best political interest to not take a stand that some of his potential supporters might agree with. Why stir the pot when you have us in the bag?
For MASA voters, we must not forget that we have the power to greatly influence this election. It would be better for our community to cast our 100,000 votes for a losing candidate than settle for illusory progress with no return. MASA voters that have jumped the Weiner bandwagon under the false pretense that Huma's presence as first lady of New York City would be a step forward are actually taking two giant steps backwards -- the first for succumbing to trivial identity politics, the second for having nothing tangible to show for it.