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Bigotry rears its ugly head in Jacksonville City Council committee

Jacksonville.com

Submitted by Ron Littlepage on April 20, 2010 - 1:30am

Good people came to the City Council Rules Committee meeting Monday in support of Parvez Ahmed, Mayor John Peyton's nominee to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

Their presence and words will help erase some of the stain placed on this community by the bigotry and intolerance that have surfaced in opposition to Ahmed, a Muslim.

But the stain will remain, and it was reinforced by the actions of two committee members - Jack Webb and Clay Yarborough.

One who spoke in favor of Ahmed was former Mayor John Delaney, now the president of the University of North Florida where Ahmed, a Fulbright scholar, is a professor.

"This is a man of peace," Delaney said.

Ahmed has worked to bridge divides, Delaney said, and he certainly isn't a supporter of terrorism, as some on the fringe have claimed.

They, not Ahmed, were the ones who stomped out of the council chambers when their motives were questioned.

It would have been better for Webb and Yarborough if they had stomped out as well.

Webb, who had recommended at last week's council meeting that Ahmed's nomination go back to Rules, went into some hard-to-follow riff about the Irish Republican Army.

Then after challenging Ahmed, he happened to be out of the room when a majority of the committee voted to recommend that the full council approve Ahmed's nomination.

Afterward, Webb insisted that he wasn't "ducking" a vote and that he had gone to get a diet soda.

I must admit that I chuckled. Webb shot back that he will vote against Ahmed at Tuesday's council meeting because of his concerns.

Yarborough's position was predictable.

He asked Ahmed a couple of questions:

Would Ahmed uphold and support the U.S. Constitution?

"Absolutely."

Did Ahmed think the Constitution should be replaced with other laws?

"No."

Well, Yarborough said, he would still vote against Ahmed because of concerns that were raised during his "research."

Councilman John Crescimbeni put Webb's and Yarborough's questions into the proper perspective. He had done some research as well.

Crescimbeni said he had talked to a retired FBI agent with 31 years in the agency, including serving as the agent-in-charge in Jacksonville, who knows Ahmed.

The retired agent, Crescimbeni said, was "astounded" by the allegations.

The councilman said he also talked with a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office about Ahmed, and what he was told "provided comfort to me, as well."

"I can't imagine a better candidate," Crescimbeni said. "Thank you for enduring this process."

As for his part, Ahmed said those opposing him "have never met me. They have never spoken to me."

While those supporting him, he said, have worked along side him as he condemned terrorism and violence, and pushed for peace and justice and diplomacy.

Crescimbeni was right: Ahmed is the right kind of candidate needed for the Human Rights Commission.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com,(904) 359-4284

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