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- ▼ April 2010 (11)
Florida Times Union, April 28, 2010
Ahmed nomination sails rockily to Jacksonville council approval
By Tia Mitchell
Ending three weeks of controversial back-and-forth, University of North Florida finance professor Parvez Ahmed was confirmed to the city’s Human Rights Commission Tuesday night.
The City Council vote was 13-6, but it came after a half-hour of debate that included a line of questioning from Councilman Don Redman that produced gasps from the audience, concern from one of the city’s top attorneys and sharp rebukes from his fellow council members.
After the vote, Ahmed said he was grateful Mayor John Peyton continued to support him through all the accusations and that a majority of council members voted to confirm him.
“That bodes very well for the future of the city that the city could handle controversy and at the end the day, as messy as the process was, the outcome was exactly what the city needed,” he said.
As discussion on the nomination began, Redman called Ahmed, who is Muslim, to the podium and asked him to “say a prayer to your God.”
The comment elicited an audible, negative reaction from the audience and Ahmed refused to comply, saying it had no relevance to his nomination to the commission. At the same time, Chief Deputy General Counsel Cindy Laquidara rushed to the podium to reign in Redman, asking to speak with him privately before he continued.
Instead, Redman changed his approach, asking Ahmed if he was offended by Redman’s opening prayer, in which he referenced Jesus. Ahmed again questioned the relevance of the question, but he said Christian prayers did not bother him.
“People do have the right to pray according to their faith and according to their beliefs,” he said.
Redman wasn’t convinced. He insisted that Ahmed, despite his answer, would be offended by prayers to Jesus and that is why he shouldn’t serve on Human Rights Commission.
Later, he joined Daniel Davis, Ray Holt, Glorious Johnson, Jack Webb and Clay Yarborough in voting “no.”
Voting in the majority were council members Bill Bishop, Reggie Brown, Richard Clark, Michael Corrigan, John Crescimbeni, Ronnie Fussell, Johnny Gaffney, Art Graham, Kevin Hyde, Warren Jones, Stephen Joost, Denise Lee and Art Shad.
Joost was among those who sharply rebuked Redman.
“This is not the Muslim commission; this is not the Jewish commission, or the Christian commission. This is the Human Rights Commission,” Joost said. “I’m offended by this line of questioning.”
Member Glorious Johnson chastised her fellow council members — at first.
“Look at us. Just look at us. We have separated ourselves from one another. This makes no sense,” she said.
Moments later, though, Johnson said that because Ahmed’s nomination was so controversial and would distract from the commission’s work, she couldn’t support it.
“If he is on the commission it will polarize what we are trying to do on the commission,” she said. “For that reason I will be voting against Mr. Ahmed’s nomination to the commission.”
But others spoke passionately about the need to confirm Ahmed, a Fulbright Scholar, saying the vocal opposition to his nomination was not reason enough to deny him.
“That’s probably the worst excuse I’ve heard,” John Crescimbeni said in response to Johnson’s statement.
Several other council members spoke on behalf of the nomination, including Art Shad and Kevin Hyde, each of whom apologized to Ahmed and said they hoped the city wouldn’t be tainted by the vote of the vocal minority.
Fussell said he was undecided on how he would vote until after he met one-on-one with Ahmed an hour before the meeting. Fussell said he asked the nominee about his background, personal views and the allegations that he had ties to terrorists.
“I was comfortable that the man that I met wasn’t the man being portrayed,” Fussell said.
Councilman Clay Yarborough, who at first voted in favor of Ahmed’s nomination in the Rules Committee but reversed himself when the committee voted again last week, read a long statement about why he changed his mind.
He said he was given reason to pause because four U.S. representatives asked the attorney general to look into relationship between the Council on American-Islamic Relations, of which Ahmed was once a board member and national chairman, and terrorism.
Reggie Brown wondered if the council in general, and presumably Redman’s questioning in particular, had gone too far.
“Have we overstepped our boundaries legally?” he asked. “I really need someone to answer that question.”
The campaign against Ahmed was led by the anti-radical Muslim group ACT! for America. Randy McDaniels, leader of the Jacksonville chapter, expressed his disappointment after the vote.
“This is a bad move,” McDaniels said during the public comment period. “It’s an embarrassment to our community, and the country is watching.”