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Somali Voters Crowd In For First Candidates Night
Columbus, October 29, 2006 – Nearly two dozen contenders for federal, state and local offices turned out last night for the first candidates night sponsored by Columbus’ growing Somali community.
Democrats outnumbered Republicans as they spoke to a crowd of about 150 people at Mifflin Middle School in northeastern Columbus. The audience, about half women dressed in native Somali clothing, was large by candidates night standards, where politicians often outnumber the voters.
The event was sponsored by The Somali Link newspaper and two organizations, Helping Africans in New Directions and Vote = Voice.
The men sat apart from the women, but all were attentive to the candidates. The only interruptions other than applause were audience members coming and going from the school auditorium to say their evening Muslim prayers in a nearby room.
Neither candidate for the U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Mike DeWine nor Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown, attended. Likewise, the gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell, skipped the event.
All four were represented by surrogates.
But two other gubernatorial contenders spoke. Bob Fitrakis, a lawyer and the Green Party candidate, drew the biggest applause when he said that as governor he would immediately issue an order preventing the Ohio National Guard from being sent to fight in Iraq.
The Iraq war is "illegal, immoral and must be stopped," Fitrakis said. "Remember to send them a message on Election Day."
He criticized what he said was an unfair law-enforcement focus on Muslims in the United States after the Sept. 11 attack.
"You cannot target one community because they are recent immigrants," he said.
Bill Peirce, a career economist and the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, said Ohioans need "more freedom, both economic and personal freedom." He promised to end "corporate welfare" and curb the government right of eminent domain.
Both candidates for the 12th Congressional District spoke.
Democratic challenger Bob Shamansky, noting that his parents came to this country from Europe, charged that President Bush was wrong to go to war with Iraq.
"The U.S. is not at war with Islam. Islam is not at war with the U.S.," Shamansky said.
Republican incumbent Rep. Pat Tiberi noted that his parents also emigrated, from Italy. He said he has focused in Congress on constituent service to the Somali community, including efforts at family unification and small-business loans.
Mahdi Taakilo, president of The Somali Link newspaper, said the Columbus area is home to about 55,000 Somalis, 20,000 to 25,000 of whom are registered to vote.
"We want to be part of the Democratic process in this country," Taakilo said. "The people here are glad to meet the candidates. The candidates will be making decisions affecting their daily lives."
Source: Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 29, 2006