Arab-American Pastor Khader N. El-Yateem confirmed yesterday that he is considering a run for the vacant 43rd District City Council seat.
Term-limited City Councilman Vincent Gentile currently represents the district, which includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
El-Yateem, a Christian Palestinian-American, is the spiritual leader of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, 414 8th Street, where he has the respect of Bay Ridge’s large Arab-American community as well as many non-Arab residents in the largely white Christian working-class community.
“The community [Bay Ridge Arab-Americans] is still exploring their options and we are looking to identify the best leader to represent our community. There are a lot of people from the community, the Arab community, the Muslim community and all other different communities that know me and trust me and know my leadership and what I’ve been doing for this community,” said El-Yateem.
“They have approached me and asked me [if I’m running for the council seat] and it is reaffirming to me for all the things that I’ve been doing for this community for the past 25 years. I am exploring that option [running for the 43rd Council Seat] and soon we will have to make a decision to present a candidate for the race.”
There has been speculation that possibly Linda Sarsour, the Executive Director of the Arab-American Association (AAA) and one of the founding members of the recent Women’s March on Washington may run for the seat.
While Sarsour has been extremely active on the national scene as a spokesperson for Arab-Americans and for her coalition building with the BlackLivesMatter movement, she is often a no-show both in Bay Ridge on local issues and in running day-to-day AAA operations.
For example, Sarsour was a no-show at yesterday’s event where City agencies, local elected officials and community activists gathered at a Bay Ridge subway stop to distribute information in multiple languages about protections from religious discrimination in the largely Muslim community.
The AAA did send a representative, Aber Kawas to the event, who said that following Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees from seven predominately Muslim countries, the nonprofit has had dozens of clients come in with fear and confusion.
Following the event, a KCP reporter went to the AAA office, 7111 5th Avenue, for some follow-up questions at about noon and found only a receptionist, a maintenance man and one person in the waiting room. The reporter was told Sarsour was not in the office.
The AAA’s mission is to, “to support and empower the Arab Immigrant and Arab American community by providing services to help them adjust to their new home and become active members of society.” The organization gets thousands of taxpayer dollars from the city every year to provide these services.
Additionally, Sarsour is very close to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the AAA has hosted at least one Muslim Democratic Club election-related event at its office, according to a well-placed source, a possible violation of federal laws restricting nonprofits from getting involved in election campaigns.
Sarsour has not returned numerous inquires from KCP.
El-Yateem yesterday highlighted the fact that though they might have a high population in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, many people within the Muslim and Arab communities are still lacking in political education due to the lingering affects of their native country’s political policies. He stressed organization and action for their community to be effective in the race.
“We need to organize in order to make our voice heard. Many of the people who come here [the U.S.], come from countries where they did not have the liberty, the democratic freedom to go vote freely. Now we need to do a lot of education, a lot of encouragement, a lot of organizing to let them know you have that opportunity in this country, to freely go and vote for any candidate that you believe will represent your ideas. All of our community leaders are going out and speaking about his and we are seeing more and more people getting involved, getting engaged and registering to vote,” said El-Yateem.
Thus far on the Democratic side, Justin Brannan, Nancy Tong and Kevin Peter Carroll have declared they are running for the city council seat. On the Republican side Bob Capano, Liam McCabe and and John Quaglione have declared they are running for the seat.
-Additional reporting by Stephen Witt