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Orlando District 3 candidates debate whether religion is an issue

By Terry Roen, For Orlando Rising , On 01 August 2017, Read Original
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Local Muslim leaders accused Commissioner Robert Stuart of Islamophobia and nativism for making his opponent’s religion an issue, while Stuart claims his opponent was the first to bring her faith into the Orlando District 3 race.

Vibert Vi White-Mohammad, a leading expert on Islam and former American Muslim Democratic Caucus regional director, said Tuesday he was outraged by Stuart’s use of a poll question about his opponent Asima Azam’s Muslim faith. He said the poll was an example of nativism.

“I know Mr. Stuart has a stellar history of work for the community but I’m shocked and dismayed that he would allow a person who works on his campaign to bring up the issue of religion to the voting public,” White-Mohammad said. “Throughout history, there have been attacks on Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Quakers and now Muslims,” he said. “It’s a terrible day and a terrible state we live in.”

His comments come a day after Rasha Mubarak, Central Florida regional director of Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the poll “Islamaphobic.”

Islamophobia is a dislike or prejudice against Islam or Muslims. Nativism is protecting or preserving the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants.

“In such a diverse and vibrant city like Orlando, there is no room for this kind of discrimination in our politics and our commissioners,” according to Mubarak’s statement. “Hateful rhetoric like this is what helps spread Islamophobia which is already too prevalent in the current administration.”
Mubarek went on to say that the national level of anti-Islamic sentiment expressed by politicians and members of government puts thousands of Muslim-American lives in harm’s way and makes them a target for violence and bigotry.

Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart took responsibility for the poll question and blamed Azam for making religion an issue.

“Faith is a positive, except when it’s in the news,” said the headline of a press release Stuart sent the media.

Stuart claimed that Azam should have been concerned in February when the Orlando Sentinel and Fox News ran stories saying the real estate attorney would be the first Muslim to sit on the Orlando City Council, if elected.

“…my campaign conducted a scientific poll of a sampling of District 3 voters,”said Stuart’s explanation in the release.  “We did not conduct any robo-calls or push-polls in any form or fashion. It asked positive and negative questions about myself and my opponent, our faiths, and our community service.”

Sentinel Reporter Jeff Weiner asked Stuart if he was behind the poll question and the three-term commissioner dodged the question, saying he could not discuss “the inner workings of his campaign.”

“Considering my roles as both a commissioner and ministry leader, I have not made any statements about her faith nor do I plan on doing so,” Stuart, executive director for the Christian Service Center, told Weiner in the July 20th story.

The poll was conducted by Democrat pollster and District 3 resident, Jim Kitchens. Voters were asked if a statement increased or decreased the likelihood they would vote for Azam or if there was no impact.

Here’s the statement:

“Asima Azam is a wife, mom of three and a real estate attorney. She has served on Orlando’s Building and Zoning Board but has never run for political office before.  News reports state that if she won, she would be the first Muslim American elected to the Orlando City Commission.”

Stuart said all people should have faith, which “guides a person to live a better life and live the teachings of their religion.”

“There is so much misinformation and division being spread by my opponent’s campaign that it should cause everyone to be concerned,” Stuart’s statement said.

Azam questioned why it took Stuart so long to acknowledge responsibility for the poll question.
“As much as I’d like to believe that Robert spent $10,000.00 of his campaign donor’s money to fund a poll to spread “positivity” about me in District 3- we all know that is not the truth,” Azam said Tuesday. “Furthermore, if there was only one question regarding faith and it cast me in a positive light why would Stuart’s campaign bother to initially deny responsibility? His statement accepting responsibility comes two weeks too late and is highly selective and misdirecting. It’s the statement of a man who got caught.”
Azam, who lives in Baldwin Park, questioned Stuart’s integrity and honesty.
“After 12 years in office, Robert Stuart should be able to run on his record of bringing positive change to the district. But apparently he can’t. The fact that he has resorted to these tactics tells me and the voters that he is no longer fit to represent Orlando.”


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