American election process positive even when we don’t win

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The nice thing about American politics is that even if you don’t win, you can still walk away like a winner.

I wish Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East could understand that power of Democracy and one day experience it themselves.

Americans are in the election process, voting in what are called “primaries” — pre-election where voters of the two major parties (Democrats and Republicans) choose the candidates who will represent them in the national elections in November.

It’s a great system.

Primaries are held at different times in each of the 50 American states, with some variations called “caucuses.” Most primaries are done and it appears Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democrat, will be the challenger to President George W. Bush, the Republican.

But in the Illinois primary on Tuesday March 16, I was most excited about the candidacy of longtime attorney and community leader William Haddad. Several months ago, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Haddad to fill a vacancy on the Circuit Court of Cook County, one of the nation’s most influential county districts.

To keep the seat, he had to run in the election. Seven other candidates also ran for the position, which is considered neither Democratic nor Republican and is considered “non-partisan.”

Haddad, who is Lebanese American, has always been proud of his Arab heritage and has worked to support the candidacies of many Arab Americans, including my own candidacy in November 1992 for a state legislative seat –” the first Arab American to run for a major office in Cook County in Illinois. Haddad was also the president of the Arab American Bar Association.

Being a judge isn’t the same as being a politician. Judges must be objective, while politicians are partisan and identify with political parties. Still, judges are elected by voters and serve full four-year terms. Haddad’s candidacy offered the promise of hope for Arab Americans that they too would have a voice in our system.

Unfortunately, Haddad lost his election. Had he won, he would have become the first Arab American to hold a full circuit court judgeship in Cook County, Illinois; we’ve had some Arab Americans win judgeships from smaller districts in the past, including Miriam Balanoff who is half Lebanese. But the Circuit Court is one of the highest regional judgeships and very powerful.

Haddad received 21.3 percent or 121,300 of the total votes cast. But the winner appears to be Kathleen Marie Burke, who received 22.5 percent or 128,408 of the total votes. Burke was number one and Haddad were number two, leading six other contenders.

Burke is Irish American. Most of the time, Irish Americans stick together and vote for their own. They are very active voters. While many Arab Americans voted for Haddad, the Arab American organizations that supported him are not very good at politics and are divisive and disorganized.

Sadly, this race was one that should not have been lost. Haddad should have won. A preliminary examination of election data by Chicago Ward and County townships where Arab Americans are concentrated show the vote for Bill Haddad was below average. That might suggest many Arab Americans may not have voted because in districts with large Arab populations, you might have expected him to have improved his average vote gain.

Despite the loss and the failure of our Arab organizations, I still left the voting booth proud that I was able, as an Arab American, to cast a vote for another Arab American.

That isn’t being selfish at all. In American politics, ethnic groups always support their own. Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, African Americans and others always cast their votes for their own.

In one of the rare opportunities, this was one time where I could also vote for “one of my own,” too. He was the only Arab on a ballot that had about a 100 names of people running for dozens offices in the same election. I also voted for Irish, Italian, Jewish, African American and Hispanic candidates, and even a few more ethnicities I couldn’t identify, I am sure.

The ability to support one of your own, even if that candidate loses the election, is a powerful thing. It strengthened my belief in the Democratic process of elections. I know one day, we will elect an Arab American to a higher public office in the Chicago area. And I know that Arab Americans who are elected to office will one day open the door wide to insure that the many benefits that governments are required to provide to their citizens, regardless of race, are provided to us, too.

Governments don’t always do a good job of insuring that funds and services are distributed fairly. Arab Americans haven’t gotten their fair share, especially in Chicago, even though Arab American families and businesses pay their share of government taxes.

That’s why it is important to have “one of your own” at the table when the decisions are being made.

Although Haddad only took second place in a field of eight candidates, he was successful. His candidacy represented power. And more importantly, it represented hope.

Cook County has more than 150,000 Arab Americans, yet it wasn’t long ago that you would never see an Arab American name on an election ballot in a major race.

Seeing Bill Haddad’s name on the ballot was something that made me proud, even if he did not win the election.

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