Irvine City Council races have a long, rich history of generating critical looks from the county grand jury, tireless political reformer Shirley Grindle, state Assemblyman Chuck Devore (R-Irvine), solidly Democrat UC Irvine political science professor Mark Petracca and, of course, our own R. Scott Moxley thanks to the shameful schemes of the Larry Agran slate.
But never before has the Irvine race veered into presidential politics – even more specifically, tonight's debate between Barack Obama and John McCain—until now.
The background: Irvine City Councilman Steven Choi, a foe of the Agran slate, was speaking at a Sept. 19 candidates forum sponsored by the Irvine Chamber of Commerce when he urged voters to steer clear of council hopeful Todd Gallinger (shown here), who has ties to the Agran slate. Among the reasons: lawyer and Muslim convert Gallinger represented the Anaheim chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which Choi called “a dangerous Islamic organization.”
Gallinger then reported to police that a caller to his office on Oct. 7 thought he was speaking with the 29-year-old attorney, but was actually talking to another employee, when he said, “I want to cut off your head just like all the other Muslims deserve.”
“It's clear that the person was motivated by the political attacks against me by my opponent,” Gallinger later complained to the Los Angeles Times. For his part, Choi told the Times he did not see the connection.
So what does this have to do with tonight's third and final McCain-Obama debate? Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director in Washington, called on the presidential candidates “to use tonight's debate to speak out against anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotyping and bias in our society. No candidate benefits by throwing swing voters like American Muslims and Arab-Americans under the campaign bus.”
Awad continued, “This election has uncovered disturbing strains of bigotry and intolerance that should be addressed by anyone who seek to lead our nation.” A news release about Awad's plea cited the recent incident where McCain called Obama a “decent guy” after a woman at a campaign rally called the Illinois senator an “Arab,” many false claims made this election season that Obama is a Muslim and an incident in which Muslim women wearing Islamic headscarves were barred from an Obama rally photo opportunity in Michigan.
But the same release also references the Gallinger death threat having been lodged after the candidate was “smeared by a councilmember's Islamophobic remarks.” CAIR had previously riffed on the Irvine incident here.
Ironically, or perhaps ironically is not the right word, Obama distanced his own campaign from CAIR two days after Gallinger says he got that menacing call, saying it was a mistake for his presidential campaign's Muslim outreach director to have participated in a mid-September meeting with several controversial Muslim activists, including . . . wait for it . . . Nihad Awad!
Though CAIR's website states that it has “consistently and persistently condemned terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians,” the Obama campaign noted that the Muslim civil rights group has many critics, especially in law-enforcement circles, and that it is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing case.
Meanwhile, intrepid Irvine City Council watcher Stephen Smith, who is no friend of the Agran slate, is keeping the heat up on Gallinger on the Irvine Tattler website, which has reported on Gallinger having filed a lawsuit in 2007 to block publication of a book that alleged one of his legal clients, KinderUSA, is a front group for Hamas. Gallinger sought $500,000 in damages, and Smith includes a link to the deposition by the book's author, Matthew Levitt, who was a defendant in the case.
“Gallinger got up before the City Council last night and said he deeply believed in free speech,” Smith says in an e-mail he sent the Weekly this morning. “Yet he tried to keep this book from being published. Just another in a long series of contradictions and dodges by Mr. Gallinger.”
At least no one is calling him Todd Hussein Osama Obama Gallinger.