Southeast Los Angeles County, which has struggled for years with public corruption investigations and bruising politics, is emerging from Tuesday’s municipal elections with a pair of black eyes. In the mostly Latino cities of Bell and Cudahy, candidates have been smeared as terrorists, had their cars vandalized and had bricks thrown through windows, and a former mayor was accused of raping a young girl in Tijuana.
Over the weekend, Bell City Council candidate Ali Saleh was alerted about fliers someone found at a local grocery store. Someone superimposed Saleh’s face on a picture of a man holding a sign that read, “Islam will dominate the world.” The flier also showed pictures of radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr, the burning towers of the World Trade Center and terrorists wearing black hoods and standing over a kneeling hostage, presumably about to be executed. At the bottom of the flier was a message to voters: “Vote NO Muslims for the City Bell Council 2009.”
The 33-year-old Saleh, who grew up in Bell, said he never expected his candidacy to lead to an attack on the city’s Lebanese American and Muslim community, which numbers about 2,000. Saleh was one of two Lebanese Americans running for council, along with Hussein Chahine. They lost. “Politics can get dirty. But usually they just say something about you,” Saleh said. “But when you come and tell people not to vote for any Muslims, you’re talking about an entire group. I was born in this country. I want to be part of this American democratic system. This is very upsetting.”