Understanding the 19th district court primary election
|Osama Siblani, Abbie Bazzi's image in the background|
|Susan Dabaja celebrating her primary victory|
Understanding the 19th district court primary election
A milestone or just another community drama that shall pass?*
Judicial elections are usually low key events. Due to the nature of the position itself and the fact that the race is nonpartisan, one does not see the drama and negativity experienced in other races. The 19th district court primary race of 2016 will be remembered for the drama that unfolded in Arab Dearborn.
It was not the Arab American community, as would usually happen, being attacked by outsiders. It was a divided community exchanging accusations. But when all is said and done, what is truly remarkable is that a longtime activist, Osama Siblani, and his paper the Arab American News/Sada al Watan, were at the very center of the drama and the object of derision and anger. To understand what happened, I spoke with a number of Arab Americans who are familiar with Dearborn politics to get their insights into what happened. Most of the interviews were held before the primary election day.
Interview # 1:
-What do you think happened?
It is Osama Siblani and his paper. Had it not been for Osama, it would have remained a simple contest where you would expect some tensions between the Bazzis and their supporters and the Dabaja family and their supporters. Just like in the old country. Because of Osama and his paper things went out of hand. And, by the way, both Bazzi and Dabaj are wonderful women. It is the men, especially Siblani, that made this into the mess it is. The two candidates were above it and out of the dirty games played.
-What was the issue? Susan Dabaja wants to run for judge and Osama and his Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC), a group perceived as a collection of Osama’s buddies who rubber stamp Osama’s wishes, wanted Bazzi. They told Dabaja to get out of the race, she did not. Then the smearing campaign began. And Osama used his paper, a paper that is supposedly a community paper, to spread the rumors questioning her “fitness” for office. Dabaja was a top law student, is a well-respected attorney and is the city council president. Osama himself supported her when she ran for city council. People saw hypocrisy and they were angry with Osama for trying to destroy the very same person he had promoted not too long ago. It was seen as dictatorial, immoral and unethical.
- How did people in the community react to Osama’s campaign? The Bazzi family want to vote for someone from their family which is understandable. It is the Dabaja family that was upset that Osama is playing a key role in spreading a nasty campaign that would have been very limited had he not used his paper to magnify the effect.
- Why was Dabaja’s husband dragged into the fight? Dabaja’s husband made a mistake and he paid for it. Susan is not his mother. It is sexist to hold a woman accountable for the past actions of her husband. Susan is not a weak candidate because of her husband. She is a young smart Arab American woman who aspired to be a judge, which is her right. The attack campaign was unjustified. Had it not been for Osama and his paper, there would be community tensions but not the ugliness that was there for all to see.
- What was Dabaja’s husband issue? At one time, many in the community thought it would be smart and a quick way to make money to bring tobacco from low tobacco tax states to Michigan which is a high tax state and pocket the difference in price. They were discovered and paid a price. Many of them took plea bargains to avoid prison. Some left the country. It is believed that the reason we have so many informants in the community is due to that period with some defendants agreeing to become informants in return for a plea. As to Dabaja’s husband, it is believed that he made a mistake and paid for it. Had he become an informant, probably he would have gotten a better deal and not gone to prison. Contrary to Osama and his paper attacking Bazzi’s husband for his mistake, in fact many in the community respect him for facing the consequences of his actions rather than becoming an informant.
- How do you think this incident would affect Osama and his paper? I don’t think people will forget. I think it is time for Osama to retire. He calls himself the “dean” of the Arab community. There is a new generation that does not accept Middle Eastern style dictatorship.
-Why have people’s wrath centered on Osama and his paper? People are just fed up with Osama using his paper as the National Inquirer. People are sick of that. His years of activism have gotten to his head. He thinks he is “the community,” that he “made” the community. There were also those nasty robo calls. And we all know that Tarek Beydoun is the one in the community who knows how to do that. And Tarek is in Osama’s clique. This is the talk you hear in Dearborn.
Interview # 2
-What do you think of the 19th district elections? I am not involved in Dearborn politics and have no agenda. The three candidates are good.
- Why do you think it was heated? You have a person who is deeply involved in politics and is the publisher of a paper. I don’t think you can be the publisher of a newspaper that claims to represent a whole community and routinely use this paper to take sides dividing the community. In addition, you use this paper to settle scores. What kind of community paper is that?
-Are there long term consequences to what happened in the primary? Osama has done this over and over again. People forget. I am not sure this time it will be different.
Interview # 3
-What do you think of the primary election? This primary election is important for the community. We need to go beyond sectarianism. Dabaja is the candidate that is appealing to all segments of the community- all sects and all national groups. Bazzi is a great person but she was “burnt” by Osama Siblani and his clique. Osama is really disliked by many Sunnis and many of those who are not Lebanese. They believe he has evolved into a parochial Shiite Lebanese activist and they reject him. The fact that he, in effect, took ownership of the Bazzi nomination, hurt Bazzi with those who are not Shiites and/or not Lebanese.
-But both candidates are Shiites, Lebanese and are from families that are from Bint Jbail? Yes, and both are great women and great lawyers. It is a question of who is supporting whom. Due to who is pushing the candidacy, Dabaja is the whole community candidate and Bazzi, due to no fault of her own, became the “Osama candidate.” And Osama is seen by many as a divisive figure. Osama hurt Bazzi’s chances.
Interview # 4
-How do you see the 19th district primary election? Bottom line is that you have the Shiites divided between Bazzi and Dabaja. And the Sunnis solidly behind Dabaja because they don’t like Osama and his politics which they see as Lebanese sectarian and divisive. Osama hurt Bazzi’s chances.
-Who has better chances, Bazzi or Dabaja? Dabaja does. She will benefit from what I call the “sympathy vote.” Osama and his paper have wronged her and there will be people voting for her because of the unfairness and nastiness she faced.
* Article will appear in the Forum and Link of 8/11/2016. www.forumandlink.com