Oct 12, 2017

Father K

Today, while the divisions between different groups in this country feel more and more insurmountable, we zero in on a particular neighborhood to see if one man can draw people together in a potentially history-making election. 

Khader El-Yateem is a Palestinian American running for office in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, one of the most divided, and most conservative neighborhoods in New York City. To win, he'll need to convince a wildly diverse population that he can speak for all of them, and he'll need to pull one particular group of people, Arab American Muslims, out of the shadows and into the political process. And to make things just a bit more interesting, El-Yateem is a Lutheran minister.

This story was reported and produced by Simon Adler, with help from Bethel Habte, Annie McEwen, and Sarah Qari.

 Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists

Jad Abumrad:

Okay.

 

Speaker 2:

You're-

 

S peaker 3:

Listening-

 

Speaker 2:

To radio lab-

 

S peaker 3:

Radio-

 

Speaker 2:

From-

 

S peaker 3:

WNYC

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab.

 

Robert:

And today we have a little experiment in democracy, diversity and division.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. Comes to us from our reporter, producer Simon Adler.

 

Simon Adler:

Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right Simon.

 

Simon Adler:

Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What, what do you have to tell me?

 

Simon Adler:

So couple of months back, I took the train down to Southern Brooklyn, to a little neighborhood called Bay Ridge that's known for its portrayal in the movie Saturday Night Fever?

 

Robert:

W- you weren't heading there for disco?

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, no. Uh, not exactly. The auditorium appears to be, uh, filling up. I was actually down there to go to this Catholic high school auditorium.

 

Robert:

Huh?

 

Simon Adler:

How you doing? Hey, sort of the classic high school auditorium sloping down with the stage in front and like an American flag on one side of the stage and a New York state flag on the other, maybe a thousand seats. And I would say half of them are filled. Like surprisingly, there's a big turnout for this thing. It look familiar. Have you seen me before?

 

Speaker 6:

Well, maybe cause you are handsome.

 

Simon Adler:

And uh, it would not be unfair to say that the crowd has an average age of a 62. The reason I was there. So, uh, what brings you here tonight?

 

Speaker 7:

Uh, come see the debate.

 

Simon Adler:

Was to watch the local candidates for the New York city city council do get out. Who's most likely to do something for you, do you think?

 

Speaker 6:

I have no idea. I've been hurt on both sides.

 

Simon Adler:

And can I ask you a question or two? As I was talking to people beforehand, uh, weaving in and out of the rows of chairs, the issues that people were concerned about were really what you would expect.

 

Speaker 6:

Are we in this neighborhood for five years. I've been fighting for a light.

 

Simon Adler:

At this level of politics.

 

Speaker 6:

In the meantime, I get aggravated. We have to run for our lives. When we cross the streets here, it's horrible.

 

Simon Adler:

You know, small stuff.

 

Speaker 8:

Taking away the 5 cent bottle tax.

 

Simon Adler:

Would you drink a lot of mountain Dew or something. So this 5 cents are going to have-

 

Speaker 8:

My water bottles. It jumps up the price. When I buy those, um 24 packs of water.

 

Simon Adler:

But.

 

Speaker 9:

[inaudible 00:02:18]We are about to begin.

 

Simon Adler:

Eventually the MC for the evening, this woman in her seventies dressed from head to toe in pink walks out onto the stage.

 

Speaker 9:

This Is America in action selection here.

 

Simon Adler:

She invites the candidates up, a five Democrats, four Republicans. They sit down at their respective tables and...

 

Speaker 9:

Okay, we're ready.

 

Simon Adler:

It gets underway.

 

Speaker 9:

And I'm all, get set.

 

Simon Adler:

And at first.

 

Speaker 9:

As your city council woman, I will help to make sure that those that have limited income or fixed income.

 

Simon Adler:

It's pretty dry.

 

Speaker 9:

We'll have enough resources and be helped to take care of their pets.

 

Robert:

Pets?

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah.

 

Speaker 9:

So they you don't have to put them down and they don't have to put them out of the streets.

 

Simon Adler:

But then about an hour, hour and a half into it, there's this moment where...

 

Kayla:

What are your solutions for the overcrowding in schools in this district? [inaudible 00:03:16].

 

Simon Adler:

One of the Republican candidates, this guy, Bob Kapano goes off on this riff.

 

Bob:

It's a matter of budgetary priorities. It takes money to build schools. So perhaps if we put an end to some of the city sanctuary city policies, like spend the $27 million to defend those here illegally, we'll commit felonies for deportation. Perhaps some you'd have more money to build more public schools.

 

Simon Adler:

And then just as it seemed like people were settling down... [inaudible 00:03:50]. This man on the far right side of the auditorium stands up and then goes on to say [inaudible 00:04:02] "Get the Arab people and the frickin Asians out of here." "Why are you selling your houses? You're letting everybody take over."Everybody sort of sat up in their seats and uh, nobody was quite sure if this thing was going to escalate. And shortly after he said this, one of the candidates up on stage, this tall guy like six foot three, salt and pepper beard stood up from behind the table and actually walked out in front of it...

 

El-Yateem:

And I wanna said something of this, forgive me.

 

Simon Adler:

And uh, and said...

 

El-Yateem:

There is an elephant in the room and it's called racism and discrimination. And this gives me that the right here. You have enough to [inaudible 00:04:52] sent the message to Trump. And to the world, that the people of the 43rd district are not afraid to send the first American City council to represent them.

 

Simon Adler:

So the reason I was at this debate is like it feels right now like America is just at its on throat. It's certainly as divided as I've ever seen it. And I just keep wondering like in this moment, can one person stand for all of us anymore? And here you've got this guy, the guy you just heard Khader Lee team, a Palestinian American trying to win an election in one of the most conservative and most divided neighborhoods in New York. And he's running on behalf of a group of people who currently are at the flashpoint of those divisions, Arab American Muslims. And just to make things a little more common complicated other elite time is a Christian.

 

El-Yateem:

That grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy spirit...

 

Simon Adler:

Christian minister.

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah It wasn't the office.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah, it was entertaining. Check, check, check. Sat down with him in his office for the first time this past March.

 

El-Yateem:

I am an Arab American Palestinian Christian Lutheran pastor in Southwest Brooklyn running for office [inaudible 00:06:27] in Arab American Palestinian Lutheran pastor in SouthWest of Brooklyn who is running for city council because I want to bring a new, bold, fresh, inclusive, powerful voice to present our district and city council.

 

Simon Adler:

Is that you've got a nice cadence there, you that you said that.

 

El-Yateem:

You know, being a preacher, you know, as I said, it helps a little bit too.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What's this guy's backstory like how did he end up being in Brooklyn and running for the seat for cities council?

 

Simon Adler:

So he was born and raised in Bethlehem on the West bank...

 

El-Yateem:

In a Palestinian, a Christian home into a family that was poor to a middle class.

 

Simon Adler:

His father was a carpenter and made most of his money carving, you know, those little like nativity scenes with the wooden camel and the wooden Christ.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh.

 

Simon Adler:

He carved those for a living.

 

El-Yateem:

My mother was housewife and she helped my father in the factory. They worked extremely hard to provide for us a good life. So it's, it was amazing, wonderful symbol life. It wasn't a complicated, so I went to school, uh, grew up in the church.

 

Simon Adler:

And after high school, led team, went into the seminary.

 

El-Yateem:

The Bethlehem Bible college.

 

Simon Adler:

And then when he was in his second year, this was 1989.

 

El-Yateem:

I was arrested by the Israeli soldiers. Um, I was picked up from my bed, from home, uh, three in the morning and they took me to prison.

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, for what reason?

 

El-Yateem:

I don't know. I never been given a reason why I was arrested. I never been convicted of anything. I was picked up from my, uh, bed, at three in the morning from my father's house and taken to prison. I was in a solitary confinement in a small cell.

 

Simon Adler:

He says that the Israeli soldiers basically tortured him.

 

El-Yateem:

Hitting me and putting me outside against the wall with a bag of my head under the rain and the cold. And they kept asking me, you tell us what you did wrong, tell us what you did wrong and said, "I have nothing to tell you." Uh, and...

 

Simon Adler:

A few months later he was released with no explanations.

 

El-Yateem:

Was a bizarre experience.

 

Simon Adler:

And when he got home-

 

El-Yateem:

After I get back from a Kmart from prison, there's a lot of people came to our house. They will say, "Oh, look, see what they did to you. Now you have to do this to them." [inaudible 00:08:48]You know, they'd come to recruit you, uh, to belong to a political, uh, party.

 

Simon Adler:

In this case it was Palestinian liberation organization, which at the time was explicitly an armed resistance movement that often targeted Israeli citizens.

 

El-Yateem:

And, uh, they will say, Oh, look, see what they did to you. Now you have to do this to them. And I said, absolutely not. Uh, this is not the way I want to live the rest of my life. You know, I always wanted to be engaged in a place where I can bring hope, I can help people. And, uh, the only way I can do that was, uh, through, uh, being, uh, become a minister.

 

Simon Adler:

So he doubled down in his studies, finished seminary with working in Palestine. And then in the early nineties, uh, he was actually sent to start a new Lutheran church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

 

El-Yateem:

So, uh, I came to Brooklyn in 1995. I remember on the first day I was shocked...

 

Simon Adler:

Because biking down fifth Avenue, if you take the whole neighborhood in, and we are in Bay Ridge, which I actually did not too long ago on a bike. Uh, what you notice is, uh, on the right we have leaf Erickson park, a nod to the uh, neighborhoods Scandinavian past this sort of crazy mix of different kinds of people. The Bay Ridge bakery, beautiful neon sign looks like it hasn't changed much since the 1960s. Johnny pumps a fireman bar, firefighter bar. Did I hit record? I did hit record. All right. Skinny Plains pub. It's sort of like looking at a geological cross section of the neighborhood's history, the beam post pub with the schnitzel house on the left. You can see how groups of people layer themselves on top of groups of people making themselves part of one of the most deeply mixed neighborhoods in the country. And when you get just a little bit South, it's impossible to not notice. One of the latest groups trying to settle in. [phonetic00:10:30] furniture. Almost. Got hit by a car, oops! The Yemen cafe. El Zahar. Hello. Meet women walking around in the job. Got a hookah lounge. Hookah nuts. That sounds nice. Turkish kebab. [inaudible 00:11:08].

 

Simon Adler:

And how large is the Arab community in the 43rd district?

 

El-Yateem:

We don't have the exact, because..

 

Simon Adler:

Again, father Elliott team.

 

El-Yateem:

When the census, the Bartman came years ago, they told the Arab community if you are an Arab check white, uh, so we don't have specific numbers.

 

Simon Adler:

But the estimates I heard are somewhere between 20 and 30,000.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Simon Adler:

Living in Southwest Brooklyn.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's a huge community.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. I mean that's only about 10% of the total population. But uh, in a democratic primary for city council...

 

El-Yateem:

We need only about 4,000 votes to one.

 

Simon Adler:

4000 votes total.

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's it.

 

Simon Adler:

That's it. Wow.

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah. I mean the turn out is very low and we have an open seats, so we'll a bigger chance winning because we're not running against an incumbent.

 

Jad Abumrad:

How, what's the margin of victory typically?

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, they can be squeakers. I mean, just as several years back, uh, the race was won by just 31 votes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Ah, What! 31.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. So, so it would seem that if this guy can just do well despite the fact that there's never been an Arab American on city council before, uh, it seems that if he can get out the, uh, the Arab American vote, he's got a shot.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, shot. I mean, you just told us there's a lot of Arabs there, so he should, he should win this election.

 

Simon Adler:

Yes. But at the same time,

 

Kayla:

This neighborhood is such a microcosm.

 

b:

I think that Islam is an evil ideology. That is right there. That's what I think.

 

Kayla:

Of, like everything that's going on.

 

Simon Adler:

This is Kayla.

 

Kayla:

Kayla Santos, who also...

 

Simon Adler:

She's the former deputy director of the Arab American association of New York.

 

Speaker 11:

I am, I'm what you call Arab American.

 

Simon Adler:

And she said, if you look around the neighborhood, you'll see all these sort of national level issues playing out on the ground.

 

Kayla:

It's like a, you know, like a shadow play or something.

 

Speaker 11:

[inaudible 00:12:56] fucking that.

 

Simon Adler:

Take the travel ban. I mean you've got.

 

Kayla:

I have the largest Muslim neighborhoods in the country, right?

 

Simon Adler:

Right next to all of these people who voted for Trump, who support the travel ban.

 

Speaker12:

No, immigration whatsoever. No one, Zero.

 

Simon Adler:

And shifting national demographics.

 

Kayla:

We're one of the last remaining in New York city neighborhoods where there is still a strong white working class that is in the process of being priced out.

 

Simon Adler:

Gentrification is really hitting white people heart and so clearly there's going to be tension.

 

Kayla:

Like we've just got a lot of the elements of the struggles and the anxieties that are going on on a national level.

 

Simon Adler:

So...

 

El-Yateem:

Candidate Log 1:10 AM.

 

Simon Adler:

With all of this in mind.

 

El-Yateem:

We're still out there in search for new voters.

 

Simon Adler:

Khader Elliott team.

 

El-Yateem:

Ended up signing out.

 

Simon Adler:

Along with the help with his campaign manager.

 

Kayla:

He's full of dead jokes. It's kind of amazing.

 

Simon Adler:

The woman you just heard a couple of seconds ago, Kayla, now...

 

Kayla:

I'm the campaign manager for El-Yateem for city council.

 

Simon Adler:

Have you guys become like best friends?

 

El-Yateem:

She is my mother in law.

 

Kayla:

Why do you call me your mother in law.

 

El-Yateem:

Because I love my mother-in-law.

 

Simon Adler:

Set out to represent the Arab community.

 

El-Yateem:

I am a candidate going where no other candidates have done before.

 

Speaker 13:

Captain.

 

El-Yateem:

Captain, so captain K, captain huddles. What's the difference?

 

Simon Adler:

But dead joke aside, it's true. He really is trying something that's never been tried before and one reason that it's never been tried before is that those 20 some thousand Arab Americans for the last 20 years, they've been hiding.

 

Linda:

Like for me, just it's been unnerving to to to be in a district where you don't feel like people are watching out for you in your community.

 

Simon Adler:

This is Linda Sarsour.

 

Linda:

I am Palestinian Muslim American community organizer, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.

 

Simon Adler:

And she says the key thing to is that not long after the nine 11 attacks.

 

Linda:

The U S government in 2003 did engage in a registration program.

 

Speaker 15:

A registry called N Sears, a national security entry exit registration system.

 

Simon Adler:

Which meant that.

 

Linda:

Males over the age of 16 who are from these like 29 countries of origin...

 

Speaker 15:

Countries that had a historic connection to terrorism-

 

Linda:

Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt. Go down the list.

 

Simon Adler:

People from those countries that were visitors, temporary workers, non us citizens had to come and formally register with the federal government.

 

Speaker 15:

APA told me, give me people, Muslim people.

 

El-Yateem:

They are treating us like animals. That's it.

 

Simon Adler:

Linda was there with some of these men providing translation services in this post office like room.

 

Linda:

Where there are all these windows.

 

Simon Adler:

The men would be called up one at a time, photographed fingerprinted.

 

Linda:

Look at their passport, asked them general questions. And I noticed that at one point that there were some men that were being told to either leave or just go home and got some stamps in their passport with future appointments or they were telling them to go to the 10th floor. That's when my like something like I got punched in the stomach, like I felt really nauseous. I was like, what's going on here? So when I went to ask the officer-

 

Simon Adler:

She was told.

 

Linda:

The 10th floor was the FBI headquarters.

 

Simon Adler:

This wasn't just some information gathering operation, they were planning to deport people. And as this realization sunk in throughout the waiting room-

 

Linda:

I can't tell you the faces that these people had, like they didn't know what their destiny was. And in fact about 10% of those that did go register were put on deportation proceedings and many of them were deported.

 

Simon Adler:

No going home, no packing a bag.

 

Linda:

And I think that's where the divide starts.

 

Simon Adler:

And so the Arab American population in New York and the Bay Ridge learned it was better to not show up. To not be counted.

 

Linda:

Yeah.

 

Simon Adler:

And then just a few years later, the associated press came out with their investigative reports.

 

Speaker 16:

The associated press reports, details how police used informants.

 

Speaker 17:

New York police department has operated on intelligence unit targeting Muslims.

 

Speaker 18:

Turns out that after nine 11 the NYP was putting large sections of the community under varying degrees of surveillance.

 

Simon Adler:

This is not a Puzo.

 

Speaker 17:

I'm a reporter for the New York times based in Washington.

 

Simon Adler:

And he, along with his team at the AP back in 2011 broke this story.

 

Speaker 17:

We found out there was a unit called the demographics unit.

 

Speaker 18:

Secret team of NYP D intelligence officer.

 

Speaker 17:

These detectives, they were mapping the human terrain of New York.

 

Simon Adler:

Snooping around neighborhoods going into different shops.

 

Linda:

All the Muslim, what's your shops? The cafes, the... Bookstores, bars and nightclubs. Restaurants.

 

Speaker 17:

Hookah bars.

 

Simon Adler:

Marking down things like...

 

Speaker 17:

They play Al-Jazeera and it's this far from a mosque.

 

Linda:

Informants known as mosque crawlers... All mosques were under surveillance.

 

Simon Adler:

And so the Arab community in Bay Ridge who had done nothing wrong, they were terrified. I mean the police were even keeping track of their kids.

 

Linda:

Like which parks do our kids where, where we're playing soccer.

 

Simon Adler:

Couple of things worth noting here, one in the end, the operation never turned up any terrorists and two...

 

Linda:

When those things happen.

 

Simon Adler:

None of their local representatives,

 

Linda:

No state legislator, no local elected officials stood up and said, this is wrong. Don't target my constituents. You know, these are these people are from my district. Nothing. And what that does is it makes you feel like the people quote in power don't care about us. Like we were out on our own. And I started realizing that there was going to have to be a moment where we had somebody in a local area,

 

Simon Adler:

Somebody who is Arab.

 

Linda:

Stand up and protect us.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And this is where El-El El-Yateem steps in?

 

Simon Adler:

No, uh, not quite yet. So first Linda started to raise these thoughts with Imams and business leaders.

 

Linda:

The Whole bunch of leaders from different institutions.

 

Simon Adler:

And the decided the first step was-

 

Linda:

To run a candidate, um, for the New York city council.

 

Simon Adler:

The idea was start small and start in a place where they have a strong base Bayridge which also happened to be Linda's neighborhood. And according to her,

 

Linda:

A lot of the unions and a lot of the people in politics were like, "Linda, this is your seat." You have to run for the seat. So I saw it like unfold before my very eyes. But-

 

Donald Trump:

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

 

Linda:

The politics changed.

 

Donald Trump:

I think Islam hates us.

 

Speaker 20:

You know, nobody talks about.

 

Linda:

We need American Muslims, man. Our front lines.

 

Donald Trump:

Yes, we have to look at Mosque.

 

Speaker 20:

Not politically correct.

 

Speaker 21:

Radical Islamism, like...

 

Donald Trump:

We have to see what's happening.

 

Linda:

And um...

 

Speaker 22:

Joining now is Executive director of the Arabic...

 

Simon Adler:

In this new political climate.

 

Linda:

I profiled and grew.

 

Speaker 20:

Linda Sasour.

 

Linda:

I started doing a lot of national work.

 

Simon Adler:

She was on all the cable news shows, became a national figure and really a polarizing one.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But why, why is that?

 

Simon Adler:

Well in large part because, and I'm sure she would hate me saying this, but her brand oddly is very similar to Donald Trump's. She can be very reactive. She's just going to say it like it is.

 

Linda:

I'd say straight. I'm very Brooklyn and maybe too, cause I was born and raised here, but I tell it like it is, I don't really-

 

Simon Adler:

And more than just telling it like it is, she's a provocateur. She's tweeted some tongue and cheek posts about how Sharia law wouldn't be that bad. More recently she called CNN anchor, Jake Tapper a member of the outright. I mean she's brash and-

 

Speaker 22:

Feminist poster-child Linda Sarsour-

 

speaker 24:

Linda Sarsour.

 

Simon Adler:

The conservative media.

 

Speaker 25:

I just counseling after I hear Linda Sarsour speak, I just need a bucket.

 

Simon Adler:

Jumped all over for it.

 

Speaker 26:

There is the witch.

 

Speaker 27:

Linda Sarsour.

 

Speaker 28:

She is a radical anti-Semite.

 

Donald Trump:

I will not submit to you-

 

Simon Adler:

Taking these missteps and warping them into totally unfounded claims.

 

Speaker 23:

Linda Sarsour, Um, she is an extremist who has backed terrorists.

 

Speaker 29:

This bitch won't be happy until this whole goddamn country is Muslim.

 

Speaker 28:

You may cause [inaudible 00:20:36] Thank you for being truthful witch.

 

Linda:

So it just didn't feel right at the moment and didn't want to run for the New York city council.

 

Simon Adler:

And so after four or five years of planning, organizing and laying the groundwork so that Linda Sarsour could run and represent the Arab community, there was suddenly this moment of, Oh God.

 

Kayla:

What are we going to do? You know,

 

Simon Adler:

This by the way again is Kayla Santos, who a ls, who at the time was working with Linda at the Arab American association.

 

Kayla:

And then I remember a moment when at the association, I walked in and I said to her, like, I just got out of a meeting that fatherK was in. And I was like, well, at that time I was like, I think I was calling him Reverend El-Yateem. I don't remember what we, when I was calling him, but I was like, don't you think "He'd be a great person to run for council?" And she like slammed her hand down on the table and she's like, "Kayla, I was just thinking about the same thing." It was like a light bulb went off. So, uh, we both like started going through our heads of like why he meets us in the middle, got all these connections with people outside of the Arab community. He's a parent of public school students. He worked at an Orthodox Jewish hospital. He's clear to Elliot is onto the NYP D is Lutheran, he's Arab, but he's Christian,

 

Simon Adler:

He's not Muslim. And they started thinking like he's going to be able to get votes that no other Arab could.

 

Kayla:

Like, Oh my God, he's like the most intersectional. Let me not use that jargony term. He's like the person with the most complex identity that might just be so complex that it'll work.

 

Simon Adler:

And so...

 

El-Yateem:

They reached out to me on this, said, listen, we want you to do this.

 

Simon Adler:

And you know, he thought about the fact that doing this, it would require him to quit his job. It would be tough on his family, but it, it felt again, like here was an opportunity to help the people around.

 

El-Yateem:

To help the people in my community. So, so I think, I'm not sure if it's like the end of December where I became like, yes, 100%

 

Simon Adler:

And so.

 

El-Yateem:

I will bring a voice to city council.

 

Simon Adler:

A couple months later.

 

El-Yateem:

I announced on temporary 26, "this is not fully my campaign, this is your campaign". At Lasage restaurant.

 

Simon Adler:

A local Lebanese restaurant.

 

El-Yateem:

This is your campaign.

 

Simon Adler:

He is upfront, shouting into the microphone, blowing out the speakers. Every single seat was filled.

 

El-Yateem:

We are going to win, [inaudible 00:23:04] win.

 

Simon Adler:

And his message to them was essentially...

 

El-Yateem:

We cannot sit and live in the shed anymore. We have to be engaged, we have to be involved. We have to be part of the decision making of this country. We have to bring our perspective to the table because the fact is other people cannot represent this [inaudiblea00:00:23:26]. We have to present ourselves. I'm really getting lucky with the parking spots.

 

Kayla:

It's your relationship with God.

 

El-Yateem:

I think so.

 

Simon Adler:

And pretty much right off the bat, uh, those words like us and ourselves, they presented a series of challenges for father El-Yateem. Uh, the first one being...

 

El-Yateem:

There is a large number of Arab Americans who are American citizens but are not registered and they refuse to be part of the political system in this country because they don't trust it.

 

Simon Adler:

Like here is a community that has avoided government to the nth degree for the past decade and a half.

 

Robert:

So what does he do?

 

Simon Adler:

Well, during the month of Ramadan...

 

Kayla:

Which is the Holy month.

 

Simon Adler:

Three or four nights a week, he would show up to the mosques with a stack of literature and a larger stack of voter registration forms. You mind if I leave my backpack in the car here. aOn the night I tagged along with him and his campaign manager Kayla...

 

Kayla:

This mosque is actually technically outside.

 

Simon Adler:

It was hot, muggy, El-Yateem was dressed in his minister garb, you know, suit and collar.

 

El-Yateem:

And I am uh, you take the board.

 

Simon Adler:

And as we walked into the mosque... If I take my shoes out here, it wasn't at all clear to me how this was going to go.

 

El-Yateem:

Considering what's happening in the middle East, the war and the division and the different groups. I was not sure if they were ready to support the candidacy of an Arabic Christian to represent them.

 

Simon Adler:

So we're standing in the back of this huge room that has like green carpet and a low low ceiling. There are like 700 people there standing shoulder to shoulder, all praying in unison.

 

El-Yateem:

They have to do this ritual four times.

 

Simon Adler:

And then there was a break in the prayer.

 

Speaker 29:

Salaam Aleikum [foreignlanguage 00:25:23].

 

El-Yateem:

They are going to allow me to speak to address the peoples so they know that I am here.

 

Simon Adler:

So we sort of tiptoe through all these people. We are up at the front of the mosque. They introduce him [foreignlanguage00:25:41] and he launched into this speech basically saying, "you know, this is our historic opportunity for the Arab community to send their first ever Arab American to city council." And even with the language barrier you can hear the passion in the speech in the response that was tepid at best. So, when he was done, we headed out to the front of the mosque and as the service led out, this sea of 700 people come crashing out of the mosque.

 

El-Yateem:

Salaam Aleikum.

 

Speaker 29:

Good luck and [foreignlanguage 00:26:29].

 

Simon Adler:

And their excitement for him is on open display. They're giving him hugs, they're saying we're behind you. We love you.

 

Speaker 30:

I Believe in this guy. I think he is the best candidate in the field and he will will represent the community

 

Simon Adler:

Only you can represent the community. We are behind you 100%.

 

Speaker 30:

[inaudible 00:26:50] we want this to happen.

 

Simon Adler:

And that evening, 1225 in the morning, we were at mosque number two. We went to a second mosque... And then a third. Each time. That same energetic response. People just pouring out, he seems to know everyone and most importantly, people were signing his petition to get on the ballot.

 

Speaker 30:

Okay, address 39 Avenue.

 

Kayla:

Okay, so just sign here.

 

Simon Adler:

And registering to vote.

 

El-Yateem:

We are just to him please. No, just to him.

 

Simon Adler:

So you just registered to vote?

 

Speaker 31:

Yes. This is my first time registering.

 

Simon Adler:

Many of them for the first time.

 

Speaker 32:

All the best.

 

Simon Adler:

Did you just register?

 

Speaker 32:

Oh, not first time.

 

Simon Adler:

First time.

 

Speaker 32:

Yeah. Only for him.

 

El-Yateem:

You are just a voter. You know what I mean?

 

Speaker 32:

Oh, what's up brother? 100%

 

Kayla:

Ultimately everybody thinks we're insane when we say we're investing a fair amount of our resources and people who have never voted before and people are kind of like, what? You know, like don't do that. It's a waste of money

 

Simon Adler:

Because for many of these people. The whole thing about registering and then later voting.

 

El-Yateem:

It was a foreign language to them.

 

Simon Adler:

Sometimes when he'd ask people to register to vote, they'd respond.

 

El-Yateem:

But why you we go to the give you money and the stand. But this is the process.

 

Simon Adler:

Other people thought that registering devote was the same as voting for him.

 

El-Yateem:

I said, no, no, you did not vote for me. The pot is September the 12th. He said, but I signed the papers two weeks ago.

 

Simon Adler:

And on top of that we did see signs of that mistrust of government.

 

Speaker 33:

I have to register?

 

Linda:

Well, you don't have to. Do you want to get the first era of American in city council?

 

Speaker 33:

Yes. Certainly, I don't know [inaudible 00:28:40]

 

Linda:

It's okay. All right. It is the first time for a lot of people. Sorry Frank.

 

Speaker 33:

I gonna go hiding under the radar right now. [inaudible 00:28:46]

 

Simon Adler:

But still...

 

Linda:

This is crazy. I didn't think that we would get this much.

 

Simon Adler:

After going from mosque to mosque through all of Ramadan by like three months before the election.

 

Speaker 34:

We have registered close to 300 voters.

 

Simon Adler:

So just at the Mosques.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah.

 

Speaker 34:

Why do you think, do you think you can get those 4,000 votes from the, from the Arab community alone?

 

Simon Adler:

We, we are, uh, you know, uh, uh, not counting on the Arab. We counting about 1000 votes from the Arab community.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, only a thousand votes.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. Just a thousand.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But didn't you just say there were tens of thousands of Arab Americans living there?

 

Simon Adler:

Well, yes, there are. There are.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So-

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, but first of all.

 

Linda:

If I get this correct, about 250 Arab American votes were cast in the last council primary 250.

 

Simon Adler:

Even getting to that 1000 number was going to be a heavy lift. And there's one more wrinkle here.

 

El-Yateem:

So um, in Brooklyn. We have about, um, 800 families that attend our church.

 

Simon Adler:

The folks you might expect to be his most ardent supporters, other Arab American Christians.

 

Sherif:

We are main Orthodox church in Egypt.

 

Simon Adler:

Like Sherif here.

 

Sherif:

Sherif, S-H-E-R-I-F. um, I am a deacon in the church.

 

Simon Adler:

You're gonna vote for Elliot.

 

Speaker 65:

I don't know. Yeah.

 

Simon Adler:

They were really uninterested in supporting him. Wll, you'd be voting for father feather Elliott team.

 

Speaker 65:

No, no, no. I don't know him.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. You won't be.

 

Speaker 65:

No.

 

El-Yateem:

The beginning of my campaign, I tried to reach out to them.

 

Speaker 65:

For me personally, no.

 

El-Yateem:

And I feel pushback.

 

Speaker 65:

No, no. I.

 

Simon Adler:

Why is that? And what, what, what's going on?

 

El-Yateem:

Well, the other big Christians in our districts are, uh, the vast majority are Republicans. Uh, so yeah, I will say 95% of them are Republicans. So that's number one. Number two, you have the situation in Egypt where Christians are being attacked...

 

Speaker 62:

...Before now been killed after bombing Christian churches in Egypt.

 

El-Yateem:

And churches are being burned.

 

Speaker 62:

St George's church in Tuntun ripped apart.

 

El-Yateem:

By these radical groups,

 

Speaker 62:

ISIS claiming responsibility? Many of the dead are children.

 

El-Yateem:

Um, you see there's tensions.

 

Simon Adler:

Well, and so is there a level of distrust in the Christian Arab community of you because you are so close with the, uh, Muslim Arab community here.

 

El-Yateem:

I mean, I will give you an example. I have very close, a friend of mine, his name is Francois. And so people went out to him and saying, Oh, we could not support him. And he said, why not? Why? He said, because he's very close with the Muslims and they will take advantage of him. So, but this is the dynamics, this is what's happening.

 

Simon Adler:

So eventually they decided only going after the Arab vote...

 

Kayla:

Wasn't the right numbers game. Like, that's just not, it's just not gonna work.

 

Simon Adler:

And so what that meant was...

 

El-Yateem:

I need to get 3000 votes from the Arabs in the district to win this election.

 

Simon Adler:

In other words, he was going to have to convince the majority white voters that he could represent them too, which wasn't going to be easy. All right. Walking down fifth year, as I discovered when maybe a month before the election, um, I went on a stroll to try to take the pulse of some of the neighborhoods, uh, white residents. Have you lived here in Bay Ridge for awhile?

 

Speaker 28:

All my life.

 

Simon Adler:

Has the neighborhood changed a lot?

 

Speaker 28:

Yes. It's more, it's more foreigners than American and it's scListen, you talked a 78 year old Irish woman. You have newcomers coming into our district. What do they know about it? Nothing. They do not know.

 

Simon Adler:

And when I asked them about father El-Yateem specifically, what did, do you know anything about him?

 

Speaker 28:

No, I don't. And I don't care too.

 

Speaker 3:

Honestly. I'd never heard of him.

 

Speaker 18:

The one that is running...

 

Simon Adler:

Father El-Yateem, right?

 

Speaker 18:

He's Egyptian.

 

Simon Adler:

He's Palestinian.

 

Speaker 18:

Okay. Palish still Egyptian. That's how I feel. It just completely turns me off.

 

Simon Adler:

And just to be clear here, you're a Democrat.

 

Speaker 62:

Yes.

 

Speaker 28:

Yeah,

 

Speaker 18:

yeah, yeah.

 

Simon Adler:

These are Democrats.

 

Speaker 18:

Anybody asks me to vote for Donald Trump. When he was running, I would turn around. I said, hell no, but I feel this is our country. This is America. And I feel American person should be in for office.

 

Robert:

Was that representative of what you heard? Was that-

 

Simon Adler:

On that street? On that day, yes. But clearly it's not like everyone down there has these opinions. Uh, and this by no means excuses their behavior or language, but I think it explained some of it that they see rent prices going up and dozens of new Arab folks moving into the neighborhood every month.

 

Jad Abumrad:

These are not the gentrifying forest though. This is-

 

Simon Adler:

Oddly enough, the Arab immigrants and even more so the Chinese immigrants, they in some ways are,

 

Liam:

let's talk about the issues that I hear and every issue.

 

Simon Adler:

Jumping back to the debate from the top of the piece. This is one of the Republican candidates, Liam McCabe-

 

Liam:

Overcrowded schools, whether it's infrastructure and transportation, it can be traced to one particular issue in South Brooklyn, and that is illegal home conversion. Absolutely my strategy...

 

Simon Adler:

Developers or landlords are taking these single family homes, knocking out all the walls on the ground floor and the second floor, and then putting up these a, these temporary walls building these tiny cramped domiciles that they can then rent out to 10 or 15 families.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh. Wow.

 

Simon Adler:

And what that does is first of all, it's incredibly unsafe for the people living in the house, but also it's putting stress on the sewer system and streets. Uh, it causes classroom sizes to go up. Uh, housing prices go up because there are just less actual single family homes on the market. Uh, it's making the neighborhood more dense than it was ever meant to be. And so for a lot of these people who have lived in this neighborhood for a long time, uh, I think it feels like their daily lives are being effected by these forces outside their control and they are reacting emotionally to those things.

 

Liam:

So you're fighting for 'em.

 

El-Yateem:

I'm fighting for the district fighting to make sure the quality of life.

 

Simon Adler:

Just one example, a couple of months before the election, El-Yateem was going around knocking on doors.

 

Liam:

And what are your views on illegal immigration?

 

El-Yateem:

Uh, we need to do the immigration reform. We need to make sure the undocumented are protecting our sanctuary city.

 

Liam:

No, no, you don't need [inaudible 00:35:12]. It's not a sanctuary city. Not interested to follow federal law, get the fuck out of my sight.

 

El-Yateem:

All right. Thank you. Thank you.

 

Liam:

You paid federal law.

 

Simon Adler:

And several of the Republican candidates,

 

Speaker 32:

You know, I deeply believe that illegal immigration has, it is a big root cause of this.

 

Simon Adler:

Trying to harness those emotions.

 

Speaker 32:

For those who come here illegally, get a handout, public health benefits. That must stop

 

El-Yateem:

One Republican candidate wrote about me. I am a radical leftist Palestinian cleric.

 

Simon Adler:

Presumably they're using the word cleric insinuating that you are not, are not in fact Christian, but you are Muslim. Is that the insinuation there?

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah, I mean that is part of their, uh, plan. They tried to use the feel of the people against my candidacy. Then the comments and the need that post it is just terrifying. I'm going to hang him. For example, one guy said all this one, I cannot read it on radio, but I will show it to you.

 

Simon Adler:

Let me read it, "He, he's a fucking asshole and should be treated as such."

 

El-Yateem:

I have lived in this community for the best 22 years and never in my life faced anything like this. And there's very interesting because the attacks not only coming from Republicans but also coming from Democrats in the race. Uh, but the Democrats, they don't that kind of under the table.

 

Simon Adler:

Elliot's team claims that some of the Democrats are making the argument that yes, he might be able to win a democratic primary, but because he's Arab, he won't be able to win the general election. So don't waste your vote on him. And Justin Brandon, who's really the establishment democratic front runner in the race...

 

El-Yateem:

Is the flyers on his lit says, "our neighborhood, our guy." Uh, so for me as an Arab American who living here, what that's supposed to mean, it is a dog worstly. A statement of exclusion.

 

Simon Adler:

I, I'll just say on that, uh, as a white dude from Wisconsin, when I see that flyer, I don't see that division in that. Am I just blind to it?

 

El-Yateem:

We, you have to understand the context of the neighborhood. And the context is everything wrong in the neighborhoods bloomed on the Arab and the Chinese, you know, if the street is dirty because of these dumb Arabs, you know, like when I go out and say I'm fighting for the community and say, "oh see, he's just only fighting for his community." That means only the Arab people. But if somebody else said the word community, it's okay. It means everybody.

 

Simon Adler:

In that, and I don't mean to push back, but it seems like, okay. It seems like you two are essentially doing the same thing to one another. Yeah. He's saying, when you say the word community, it's only about the Arab community. And when he says our neighborhood, you're saying he's just talking about the white folks in Bay Ridge. Isn't it the same thing happening in both directions?

 

El-Yateem:

Well, it could be. Uh, but we need to understand the backgrounds. We have a president who use so much rhetoric. Uh, he came up with the Muslim ban and building the wall and, and attacking minorities and people of color. Uh, our Councilman and his staff never took a stand on these issues and came out in support of the Arab and Muslim community. That's, you have to look at the history.

 

Simon Adler:

And, well, it seems like maybe his opponents are playing up this kind of identity politics over and over again. I saw El-Yateem making explicit attempts to reach out across those boundaries.

 

Speaker 62:

I like this.These are Republicans following El-Yateem.

 

Simon Adler:

Take this for example, at this noisy firefighter bar, he's strolled up to this table of burly white men and just started giving hugs. And I mean, just listen to how Brooklyn he sounds here.

 

El-Yateem:

How are you doing?

 

Simon Adler:

Let's hear that once more.

 

El-Yateem:

How are you doing? Is he behaving like this? Can I give you [inaudible 00:13:53].

 

Kayla:

The whole thing has been a really delicate line.

 

Simon Adler:

Kayla Santos. Who also...

 

Kayla:

Because we really want it to be honest and, and not adjust too much. Um, but while also like letting people know that this campaign wasn't just for the Arab community, it was for them as well,

 

Speaker 35:

[inaudible 00:39:25] 59 street.

 

Simon Adler:

And so the campaign was also focusing on things that, well, things that mattered to everyone. What's happening here?

 

Speaker 35:

They're doing a complete renovation of the station.

 

Speaker 36:

There's no other train at the station.

 

Simon Adler:

You know, a real daily life concerns.

 

Speaker 37:

The station is going to be closed for at least five months. As you see, it's chaotic.

 

Simon Adler:

On a cloudy morning El-Yateem set up a podium right in front of the cordoned off staircase of a closed subway station and railed against the MTA for doing with next to no warning at all these repairs that were really just cosmetics weren't needed at all.

 

El-Yateem:

We think about our students, we think about our small business owners, the muffs above chefs will, who will be affected and impacted for the closing this station for no reason.

 

Simon Adler:

I mean, what's more unifying here in New York than complaining about the subway? And he also went after specific groups, um, groups who were traditionally white.

 

El-Yateem:

I just want to say thank you so much for this opportunity to invite me to be with you tonight-

 

Simon Adler:

Like on this rainy Thursday night in this YWCA multipurpose room, uh, that felt a lot like an elementary school cafeteria.

 

El-Yateem:

And I thank you for inviting me to share my reasoning why I'm running for city council. And also to tell you that I will be very proud to be the first one to represent the democratic socialist in city hall.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Who are the democratic socialists?

 

Simon Adler:

These are the Bernie Sanders people.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh.

 

Simon Adler:

And the important fact to know is there are lots of anti-establishment white people in this district.

 

Kayla:

This neighborhood in the presidential primary went Bernie and went Trump.

 

Robert:

He beat Hillary. He beat Hillary in this district. So your team has to put on the clothes of yes, a Brooklyn Jew.

 

Simon Adler:

And watching him try to do that. A couple of things struck me.

 

El-Yateem:

[inaudible 00:41:14] I said, I was born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine. Uh, and my father actually also carpenter, not not Elisha, not Elisha.

 

Simon Adler:

First. How he was intentionally bringing parts of himself to the for a while pushing other parts into the background.

 

El-Yateem:

So I'm going to tell you that, uh, we have some commonalities together.

 

Simon Adler:

And second.

 

El-Yateem:

We are committed to justice. And I think that's why you are here tonight, right? Otherwise you are in the wrong room. Know.

 

Simon Adler:

How we highlighted specific policies that represented those parts of himself.

 

El-Yateem:

Issues like economic justice. A free education, our universities, I have two daughters in college and I know how much it costs me. I know that my wife and I, we have to get a second job to be able to pay for them to go to college.

 

Speaker 1:

So did they decide to support him or no?

 

Simon Adler:

Well in fact they did.He is endorsed by the democratic socialists of America, both the local and national chapters of the organization, which was a huge deal.

 

El-Yateem:

Yes.

 

Kayla:

100%.

 

El-Yateem:

And that was like, okay, we are a business now.

 

Kayla:

It's now it's interesting, right?

 

Simon Adler:

Because with that endorsement came some real support.

 

Speaker 39:

I came to the campaign through the DSA.

 

Speaker 40:

DSA seemed like a good conduit.

 

Speaker 41:

I am democratic socialist.

 

Simon Adler:

Locally. They committed hundreds of volunteers.

 

Kayla:

We had 150 200 volunteers yesterday.

 

Simon Adler:

The sort of manpower that allowed them to flood the neighborhood and knock on thousands of those.

 

Michael:

My name is Michael, I am voting for Elliots team...[crosstalk00:42:44]

 

Simon Adler:

Trying to convince people to vote.

 

Tasha:

When people understood his stances on the legislation. I can grew really excited about that.

 

El-Yateem:

I'm feeling good, Darararara (laughs)

 

Simon Adler:

And more than just helping them knock on doors because of the national endorsement on many evenings of the week, they actually had folks from all over the United States phone banking for him, calling from places like Florida to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Again, pitching people to vote for father your team.

 

El-Yateem:

I'm trying show that my candidacy for city council, it is for everyone in this district

 

Simon Adler:

And this is this. I find this so fascinating about you that I see such a contradiction in everything you're saying there that you're saying you want to represent the whole community, which I'm sure you do, but at the heart of it, like what's motivating that is wanting to give voice to this group of people that don't have a voice.

 

El-Yateem:

Absolutely. I mean that is 100% and I cannot deny that. I mean one of the most motivating factors in me running because I wanted to make sure my community has a voice and has representation, but I'm running to represent everyone. You know?

 

Simon Adler:

[inaudible 00:44:03] Just a weird,

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah. it is weird because you know, uh,

 

Simon Adler:

Wasn't that a question in your mind going into this, like how do I walk this incredibly tiny, tight rope of telling the Arab community, I am you and this is our moment, but simultaneously telling the majority of the neighborhood like, but I'm still used too like, don't worry. I can be both. And you know...

 

El-Yateem:

People have to understand my identity. I mean I went and knocked on thousands of doors. We talked to people and my, my talking points of the door was always, I'm a father of four, my wife is a school nurse. Um, uh, I love this community. And then... I didn't speak only about the Arab and Muslim community. I spoke about affordability and livability in the community. We spoke about transportation, we spoke about, uh, police accountability. We spoke about things that people in the community said in this district said, "Yes, we are going to support you. We need somebody like you who can go and our behalf." So at the end of the day, uh, my identity is who I am. I am running as who I am and I will not allow anybody to take that away from me.

 

Simon Adler:

And so just a couple of days before September 12th, uh, before the election, I checked in with Kayla to see how things were looking. How many days do we have left here?

 

Kayla:

Five days (laughs). Yeah.

 

Simon Adler:

And apparently she told me, uh, as El-Yateem and his canvassers had been going around to all of these doors knocking, they had been taking notes on people. And in those notes, each person was given a number from one to five-

 

Kayla:

Based on their level of support. Is like that person was so pro El-Yateem, you didn't even need to go to that door. You're just marking them down. Five is like, sorry, I'm voting for somebody else. Twos and ones are positive ideas.

 

Simon Adler:

And just a couple of days before the election, an election, I'll remind you, they only need 4,000 votes to win. The number of positive IDs they had was.

 

Kayla:

5,500.

 

El-Yateem:

So you currently have 5,500 give or take.

 

Kayla:

Yeah, ones and twos.

 

El-Yateem:

So will, uh, be very interesting to see how the primaries will be translated in numbers when the September 12 comes.

 

Simon Adler:

Okay, well we're going to take a break and when we come back-

 

Robert:

It'll be election day.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Election day.

 

Jeffrey:

This is Jeffrey.

 

Marjoire:

And this is Marjorie.

 

Jeffrey:

From Boise, Idaho. Radiolab is supported in part.

 

Marjoire:

By the offered peace lung foundation.

 

Jeffrey:

Enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

 

Marjoire:

More information aboutSloan@-

 

Jeffrey:

www.sloan.org.

 

Speaker 42:

Listen to your favorite podcast on any device with pocket casts. You can start an episode on your phone during your commute. Pick up where you left off on your laptop at work. Then finish at home on a smart speaker like Alexa without missing a beat. Download the free PocketCasts app today for Android or iOS. Find us online@pocketcasts.com or use the app on Alexa Chromecast, Sonos, Apple watch and CarPlay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Jad Roberts, Radiolab. And we're gonna go back to Simon Adler.

 

Simon Adler:

Should we do election day?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, yeah. Let's have an election.

 

Simon Adler:

Okay.

 

Robert:

What happens?

 

Simon Adler:

So the election, uh, this is September 12th.

 

Robert:

Alright, so it is six in the morning.

 

Jad Abumrad:

2017.

 

Robert:

The sun is yet to rise. We are outside the, uh, El-Yateem, uh, get out the vote headquarters. Here we go.

 

Kayla:

Where is the lid that were using for this.

 

Speaker 43:

I got no map [crosstalk00:47:44].

 

Simon Adler:

Until I show up at six in the morning and everything is already a buzz.

 

Speaker 43:

Party over there. It's crazy.

 

Simon Adler:

There were dozens of volunteers, staff workers.

 

Kayla:

You all so amazing. Thank you for coming this morning.

 

Simon Adler:

Hovering around these plastic folding tables that were set up everywhere.

 

Speaker 43:

Don't leave without one or two signs.

 

Kayla:

So what we're going to do is we're going to give you a giant stack of liter a...

 

Speaker 43:

Makes sense.

 

S peaker 3:

All right. Sweet.

 

Simon Adler:

And shortly, shortly after I got there, uh, Kayla and father El-Yateem both arrived.

 

El-Yateem:

[inaudible 00:48:15] Hey.

 

Kayla:

We're matchi5ng. That's pretty awesome.

 

El-Yateem:

You know, whites got the memo.

 

Kayla:

Yeah, right.

 

Simon Adler:

They were in a matching Democrat, blue. Kayla in blue jeans and a blazer father Elliott team in an Oxford with the, the white collar.

 

El-Yateem:

And blue is we are saying today's election day.

 

Kayla:

(laughs).

 

El-Yateem:

So here is to say, September 12, September 12...

 

Simon Adler:

And as quickly as he arrived...

 

Speaker 44:

No opposition in sight. And uh, enjoy yourselves.

 

Simon Adler:

He was sent out to start the day.

 

Speaker 44:

Yeah 86th.

 

El-Yateem:

Beautiful day in the neighborhood.

 

Simon Adler:

And so-

 

El-Yateem:

It is a beautiful in the neighborhood.

 

Simon Adler:

We hoped into the car. And that was sort of the beginning of the day. And really his job was just to shake as many hands of as many people as he could in as many different disparate parts of the district as possible.

 

El-Yateem:

Are you voting today [foreignlanguage00:49:06] do you speak Arabic or English?

 

Kayla:

What should be the basis of whether or not you win a race is ID and pull. ID is many positive ideas as you can. Pull out as many of those people on election day.

 

Simon Adler:

Pull out, meaning pull them to the polls.

 

Kayla:

Exactly. Get as many of your positive ids out to the polls as you can.

 

Simon Adler:

And for their campaign to do this.

 

Kayla:

We have to effectively have two different operations.

 

Simon Adler:

First and foremost is-

 

Speaker 45:

[inaudible 00:49:38] Salaam Aleikum.

 

Kayla:

Salaam Aleikum [foreignlanguage00:49:35].

 

Speaker 45:

Do you speak Arabic?

 

Kayla:

There's gotta be an Arab community operation.

 

Speaker 45:

Did you vote?

 

Kayla:

So we have likely Arabic speakers.

 

Speaker 45:

Their assumption was that an Arab voter is going to need their handheld much more tightly to get them to the polls.

 

Kayla:

Like a lot of these people have never been to the polls before.

 

Simon Adler:

And so.

 

Speaker 46:

Okay, can you just give her a message?

 

Simon Adler:

Then they had like six people on their phones just going down these lists.

 

Speaker 46:

I'm calling to speak to [phonetic00:49:57].

 

Simon Adler:

Calling people saying, have you come out and voted today?

 

Speaker 46:

Bring the familly. Thank you so much.

 

Simon Adler:

Simultaneously, that same person who has been called.

 

Kayla:

I'm basically the person that actually makes sure that you go vote.

 

Simon Adler:

Is being flanked by a group of canvassers.

 

Speaker 46:

All right. This is a Mohammad.

 

Simon Adler:

Marching up to their apartment and banging on their door saying.

 

Speaker 46:

1C, 2E, 3D, 4A and 4D.

 

Simon Adler:

Come out and vote.

 

Kayla:

We're gonna pull you out.

 

Speaker 46:

Coming to you guys. Hello [foreignlanguage00:25:13].

 

Kayla:

We're going to say like, what time are you going to the polls?

 

Speaker 47:

Up to what time 9:00 or?

 

Kayla:

Yeah 9:00.

 

Speaker 46:

[foreign00:50:32].

 

Kayla:

We need you to go vote. FatherK needs you to go vote.

 

El-Yateem:

I met him couple-

 

Simon Adler:

They had this very long script.They would go through and I don't remember all of the Arabic, but they would often say, so are you going to the polls today? And the response would be like Inshallah, like God willing. And they weren't supposed to accept that. They'd have to say no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no Inshallah, tomorrow, today, not God willing, you willing. And then they would have to get them to say either like I promised on my head or I promise on my heart. And if they got either of those, then they felt like they had imposed social pressures that would work on the Arab community.

 

Kayla:

And then.

 

Simon Adler:

On top of all this.

 

Kayla:

We have to do the standard operation of get out the vote with the triple prime voters, which is like the voters that have that reliably vote in primaries, in this community, largely white, largely over the age of 50

 

Simon Adler:

Alright. Saint Nicholas, old folks' home.

 

El-Yateem:

He voted.

 

Speaker 48:

The [inaudible 00:51:29] is back again.

 

El-Yateem:

I am back again.

 

Simon Adler:

Going into nursing homes, sending out even more canvassers and even-

 

Speaker 49:

Whoo team El-Yateem.

 

Simon Adler:

The occasional shout out the passenger window of your car. And early on in the day back at the campaign headquarters,

 

El-Yateem:

[crosstalk00:51:32] I need somebody who's a free.

 

Speaker 50:

Now what he need?

 

El-Yateem:

I need to go pick a bottle from her.

 

Simon Adler:

It was clear just how complicated and resource intensive running these two parallel campaigns was.

 

El-Yateem:

Just a couple of people to vote.

 

Kayla:

Where.

 

El-Yateem:

I am gonna send...

 

Simon Adler:

El-Yateem had just received a call from several Muslim women saying that they needed a ride to the polls. His wife grace was going to go pick them up, but she needed someone to go with her.

 

Speaker 46:

[inaudible 00:01:27] and you know, I'm going to go with them to get the voters.

 

Simon Adler:

So this organizer we her said she would do it, but-

 

Speaker 50:

[inaudible 00:52:5] you can't. You can't leave the table. You got to any time. Yeah, I'll deal with it.

 

Simon Adler:

One of the campaign directors. Andy said, no, you've got to stay here.

 

Speaker 50:

Don't text WhatsApp. WhatsApp.

 

El-Yateem:

I need somebody to go with the grace.

 

Speaker 50:

I will take this one.

 

Simon Adler:

I'll take care of this.

 

Speaker 50:

So you can pick up a voter.

 

El-Yateem:

Yes.

 

Speaker 50:

Mohammad, can it be Mohammed?

 

Simon Adler:

Like just Hussein Mohamed.

 

Kayla:

He doesn't speak Arabic.

 

Simon Adler:

Turns out, uh, Mohammed doesn't speak Arabic.

 

Speaker 50:

You need who speaks Arabic.

 

Simon Adler:

Which.

 

El-Yateem:

It's no, not necessarilly.

 

Simon Adler:

Eventually turned out to not actually be a problem.

 

Speaker 50:

So why doesn't Mohammed go.

 

El-Yateem:

Please? Lets just do it.

 

Speaker 50:

I know, I know, I know. So why doesn't Mohammad go?

 

El-Yateem:

Just taken to much too for this [inaudible 00:02:08].

 

Speaker 50:

Mohammed, Mohammed go with. Come here. So go.

 

Simon Adler:

But then, with that pointed out, But if these are women it would be more appropriate for all those going to pick them up to be women.

 

Kayla:

Um, [inaudible 00:53:06] but you now control selves...

 

El-Yateem:

That same woman.

 

Kayla:

Mohammed can be here. Mohammed can take my place for a little bit.

 

Speaker 47:

What are you going [inaudible 00:02:27]

 

Speaker 50:

I'll take your place.

 

Simon Adler:

And so finally-

 

Kayla:

Busy day. Hectic.

 

Simon Adler:

They said with that just go. And this was all for just two votes. But I will say despite all that, midway through the day, it did appear like this two pronged approach was working.

 

Kayla:

This is his first time voting.

 

Speaker 51:

I voted.

 

El-Yateem:

You did?

 

Speaker 51:

Yeah.

 

El-Yateem:

Good.

 

Speaker 51:

Yeah. I did. Yeah.

 

Kayla:

You did? Yes.

 

Kayla:

That is 50 doors?

 

Linda:

That is 50 doors. Yeah, 71 people.

 

Simon Adler:

The canvassers, we're getting good feedback. And on the street.

 

El-Yateem:

Tatarararam, tantam.

 

Simon Adler:

Both.

 

El-Yateem:

First time voter. We registered him.

 

Simon Adler:

Arab folks and.

 

El-Yateem:

Hello.

 

Simon Adler:

White folks. We're coming up to him and saying like-

 

El-Yateem:

That is what I am talking about.

 

Simon Adler:

Hey, we voted for you.

 

Robbie:

[foreignlanguage00:53:45].

 

Simon Adler:

This is Robbie, the canvasser who's been with the campaign from the beginning.

 

Robbie:

You don't understand what this means for the Arab-American community. You only know what it means. So it's pretty personal. Have you voted today? Right? I'm going to get all emotional.

 

Kayla:

You're getting emotional?

 

Robbie:

I don't want to be emotional. My husband is done in Malaysia because he swore me a man. Okay. Can't do this cause I'm...

 

Kayla:

Thank you.

 

Robbie:

So yeah, it is very personal.

 

Simon Adler:

But then...

 

El-Yateem:

Hi, how are you?

 

Simon Adler:

In El-Yateem's car at about two in the afternoon.

 

El-Yateem:

How was the numbers looking.

 

Simon Adler:

They got their first sense of what voter turnout was looking like.

 

Khan:

Yeah, right. Right. Yeah. So the numbers said that were underperforming in a few poll sites where we should be doing better. And you know, uh, sorry, let me start that again. I'm like frazzled now. Um...

 

El-Yateem:

This is Muhammad Khan. The campaign's treasurer.

 

Khan:

Yeah. The number said that, you know, poll sites where we have strong support are showing lower turnout than we were hoping for. Um, so obviously we don't know who people are voting for, but we're guessing that since less people are voting their overall, that means that less folks are voting for us. And then pull the sites where we know our opponent has strong support, we're seeing higher turnout.

 

Simon Adler:

And so what? What did the strategies to remedy that?

 

Khan:

So we just need to allocate more canvassing resources to areas where we see under-performance so we can turn more people out to vote.

 

Simon Adler:

So go knock on those doors hard.

 

Khan:

Knock on the doors, pull people out of their homes and make sure they vote.

 

Simon Adler:

And so, with about four hours remaining...

 

Linda:

Right now, it's all about talking to individuals, dragging people off the street.

 

Simon Adler:

All of the leaders of the campaign, including Linda Sarsour.

 

Linda:

You literally got to find people that are recognizable.

 

Simon Adler:

Hit the streets,

 

El-Yateem:

I go to the shops. I got Steve [Crosstalk00:05:36].

 

Simon Adler:

Of North Bay Ridge. They were literally going into Arab owned stores...

 

Linda:

Telling them, you gotta go to the polls. And if you didn't, I am taking you right now.

 

Simon Adler:

Barbershops, delis, hookah, lounges.

 

Linda:

Yeah, he is gonna go vote.

 

El-Yateem:

[foreignlanguage00:56:07] he is changing his clothes.

 

Linda:

You gonna vote?

 

El-Yateem:

See is taken up to vote.

 

Simon Adler:

And while this was happening.

 

Khan:

Yeah I don't live in your district. I'm here to help out.

 

Speaker 52:

I'm here to canvas for you.

 

Simon Adler:

The final push of volunteers we're showing up.

 

Kayla:

It's a good time to push again. Yeah.

 

Khan:

Do we go fourth pass?

 

Kayla:

Yes. go go go go go.

 

El-Yateem:

All right people, Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Come on.

 

Simon Adler:

And when they got the updated turnout numbers.

 

Kayla:

We have two of our poll sites that have been hit at 115% of turnout already.

 

Simon Adler:

Seem to be working.

 

Kayla:

So we just got to keep that up.

 

Simon Adler:

What's the, what's the emotion at the moment?

 

Kayla:

Yeah. I don't know. I mean it's a close race. I like it. At least it feels like it based on the turnout numbers that we're seeing in the way that turnout's happening. There's basically two strongholds that are currently developing North Bay Ridge, South Bay Ridge.

 

Simon Adler:

Oh, a South Bay Ridge, which is largely white. Seems to be turning out hard for the establishment candidate. Justin Brannan. Uh, and North Bay Ridge is where, uh, the majority of the Arab Americans live. And in that moment, uh, the campaign makes a decision.

 

Kayla:

Um, so at this point we're zeroing in all of our efforts on just, you know, everything North of 75th street.

 

Simon Adler:

That the only way to win is to push hard to get as many votes as they can in those Arab American neighborhoods and essentially right off trying to convince the white voters.

 

El-Yateem:

So this is like, you know, we gotta it's our people are going to make the difference. It'll be good for our people.

 

Simon Adler:

Yes.

 

Kayla:

We're doing good. We've got to stay in our town.

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah.

 

Kayla:

That's it.

 

El-Yateem:

And the...

 

Kayla:

Focus on our part of town.

 

Simon Adler:

And so, like an hour remaining. Everyone went out.

 

El-Yateem:

Let's do this.

 

Simon Adler:

For one final push.

 

Robbie:

[foreignlanguage00:07:23]

 

Simon Adler:

Cars were driving by honking their horns for him.

 

El-Yateem:

[inaudible 00:07:41] Brooklyn, do you believe this. This is incredible.Just broke the 12 hour shifts. Hey, thank you so much.

 

Speaker 54:

Good luck today, hope you win.

 

El-Yateem:

Thank you so much.

 

Speaker 55:

I just saw your picture, said thats my man.

 

El-Yateem:

Thank you so much brother.

 

Speaker 55:

Yes I'm going, I'm going all the best.

 

Speaker 56:

Thank you so much.

 

Speaker 57:

Can you take a picture of us?

 

El-Yateem:

Sure yeah. How are you sister?

 

Speaker 57:

Ready 1,2 Thank you.

 

El-Yateem:

Thank you.

 

Simon Adler:

Uh, by my watch? It is nine o'clock. The campaign is over. I was with El-Yateem right when we hit nine o'clock. And in that moment, I don't know from where, but someone handed him-

 

El-Yateem:

What's up baby.

 

Simon Adler:

An infant. And he was just standing on this dark street, uh, his back against a minivan, his face illuminated by the light pouring out from his campaign headquarters with this baby in one arm and his cell phone press tightly up against his ear asking Kayla-

 

El-Yateem:

What does the numbers look?

 

Simon Adler:

What the numbers were looking like?

 

Kayla:

Still Counting

 

Simon Adler:

All of his volunteers, staff and supporters are gathering in the patio of this bar pizzeria called the Firefly waiting there for El-Yateem to arrive as well as the results.

 

El-Yateem:

Kayla called me as I was woken up to the Firefly pizzeria because at that time, the numbers from South Brooklyn came in.

 

Simon Adler:

She said, I've added these results with what we already know.

 

El-Yateem:

And uh, she said, uh, we lost. The moment before I walked into... Let's see what [inaudible 00:09:55]. The firefly.

 

Simon Adler:

After word got around that they had in fact lost, um Linda Sarsour.

 

El-Yateem:

So um....

 

Simon Adler:

Stood up on this picnic table and addressed everyone.

 

Linda:

I know a lot of folks who are here who are not children of immigrants, or if you're not Arab American or Muslim, you do not understand what this campaign meant to us and to our communities. And for us it is not over. And I want to say to father, father, father Khader did not have to do this. He did not have to quit his job, a father of four, but father Khader did it. He did it to help us build the political voice that we knew we always had in this community to allow people to pay attention to us and our issue. He is the winner tonight.

 

Kayla:

Guys.

 

Linda:

We're doing this again-

 

Kayla:

We are coming back for a second time.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, so he lost do we, do we know, do they know why?

 

Simon Adler:

Yes. So he ended up losing by, uh, just under 700 votes, which is about 7% of the total votes cast.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which we know what, what, uh, what, what accounted for the difference?

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. We, we can't know for sure why, uh, because the voter records don't come out until December. But there are a couple things that we do know. One was that, uh, there were no Arabic translators at the polls.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah.

 

Sarah:

Do see how far I can get? I'm just following.

 

Simon Adler:

We actually had reporters Sarah Carrey go down into one of the polling locations to see exactly what was going on.

 

Sarah:

Hi. Can I just ask what languages you guys are translating.

 

Speaker 58:

Cantonese and Mandarin?

 

Sarah:

How about you?

 

Speaker 59:

Spanish to English to Spanish.

 

Sarah:

Okay. Is there somebody a, an Arabic translator?

 

Speaker 60:

Unfortunately, Arabic is not a approved language for uh, to have an interpreter in Brooklyn. It is a state law. Well actually in New York, I believe it's a state law.

 

Simon Adler:

Turns out what languages are provided in any borough of New York city are decided upon based on census data. And because there is no census data.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh, come on.

 

Simon Adler:

For in Arab communities.

 

Robert:

That makes me so angry.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's why.

 

Robert:

Did they say you can't come here? or like are they or do they just go neutral?

 

Simon Adler:

Well, the, the problem was, uh, the interpreters that the campaign was attempting to provide for these folks at several of the polling locations, they were actually turned away from the polls. They were told.-

 

Robert:

By the New York state officials, by the election people?

 

Simon Adler:

By the folks working the polls.

 

Robert:

Oh really.

 

Simon Adler:

Which a, which it turns out is illegal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They were illegally turned away.

 

Simon Adler:

They were illegally turned away. But, um, despite all that, they did in fact get out more Arab American voters than have ever turned out for a race like this, like by a factor of four.

 

Robert:

By four Oh four. That's interesting.

 

Simon Adler:

Where they ended up, uh, coming up short, it would seem, uh, is with the white voters. And nobody has a perfect explanation for this. But I, I did talk to some political movers and shakers down in the area and they, uh, they offered up sort of three different explanations. Um, one is that, uh, the message that he was delivering to the white folks just failed to connect. The second one is that, uh, having these two campaigns at the same time, one for the Arabs, one for the white folks, that, that just damned him from the beginning.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just like in terms of resources or in terms of messaging.

 

Simon Adler:

All of the either. Uh, and then the third one is that, uh, this had nothing to do with him. This had nothing to do with this campaign. Just in this moment, there were not enough white folks who would be willing to vote for an Arab candidate. Uh, no matter what.

 

El-Yateem:

No... [inaudible 01:04:47].

 

Simon Adler:

No. It's nice to hear, to be able to speak back to it though.

 

El-Yateem:

Yeah (laughs).

 

Simon Adler:

Where emotionally. Where are you? Are you like, [inaudible 01:04:58] are you like gotten past? A couple of weeks after the election? Um, I headed back down to Bay Ridge to sit down one more time with father El-Yateem.

 

El-Yateem:

Well, the truth is that I haven't taken a day off yet.

 

Simon Adler:

Why?

 

El-Yateem:

Cause I've been so busy.

 

Simon Adler:

Why, what... Why are you doing this to yourself?

 

El-Yateem:

Not doing this to myself. It is just uh, uh, the outcome of this campaign has been unbelievable. So the moment we finished with the campaign, we continue to meet to discuss the political power that we have built, whether we are going to do with it because we have almost 3000 people came out and voted. We can make a difference in any election. And that's why I said we cannot slow down now. We need to continue to educate the community. We need to continue to be engaged with them. We cannot lose the momentum. We cannot afford to lose the momentum. We just can't. So this is...

 

Simon Adler:

Are you a politician now? Like is that...

 

El-Yateem:

This is the will of the community. We have demands. We have political power and um, we have an address now and the address is Khader El-Yateem. Uh, so elected officials, you will not talk to us. You come and speak to us through Khader El-Yateem. That's the only way you can talk to us.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah. I feel like what struck me in that conversation, uh, with like he spent his entire campaign trying to speak to all sorts of different groups. He was saying, I can represent you all. I am yours everyone. But in that final conversation, uh, what I heard from him in that was a, him becoming more and more a voice of just one group, one community, his community.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mmh. Well that's, yeah, but I sat- co- you know, this is the game. I feel like this is him recognizing the nature of the game and deciding to come from a position of strength and I say awful. I'm also-

 

Robert:

You want him to basically tightened his grip on the Arab vote and then walk into room after room of question. You actually say, when you want to our votes deal with me. I've got votes to push. I've got votes to give in with hold. I am a boss.

 

Simon Adler:

I tell you what I want. I want that community to step out and be heard and have a voice and this is how it happens.

 

Robert:

I think It has to, if you believe in this system, it has to be possible for someone talented enough to be able to stand up and say two things at the same time. Two things that seem contradictory that he does believe in. And that has to be possible.

 

Simon Adler:

Yeah, I understand that. But I mean in this particular moment, in this particular, I mean I don't think identity politics is a choice in this moment, you know? I mean, do you remember the woman who was like still Egyptian, still Egyptian? He's being seen as one thing that he is not choosing-

 

Robert:

He doesn't have to become that one thing.

 

Simon Adler:

In that one environment, what do you do? You can't just like pretend to have a rainbow coalition when there's no chance of that.

 

Robert:

Or you can make one.

 

Simon Adler:

You just fight.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Uh, you got that out of your system (laughing).

 

Simon Adler:

Yes. Sorry.

 

Robert:

As you were saying [crosstalk01:07:48].

 

Jad Abumrad:

So through your prince here. I'm sorry. Yes what, so how does he feel about it?

 

Simon Adler:

Oh yeah, I was going to say, oddly enough, uh, I tried to put all of this in front of him. With that, uh, that brings me actually to the question that I think is at the heart of everything that I've watched is you are really trying to transcend identity politics. You were trying to at one time speak to those people and yet at the same time say no, that my Arabness has nothing to do with this. You trying to do both. And I think that, I worry that that is why it didn't work.

 

El-Yateem:

Hmm. I don't know. Uh, I have to think about what you just said, but, uh, uh, you know, I went out there as myself as an Arab American Lutheran pastor, but I had to take stance on issues that really mattered to me and to the things that I am passionate about.

 

Simon Adler:

What does thhat mean? You're sort of a better person than you are a politician?

 

El-Yateem:

I like to see myself like that. Definitely. I mean, I, d- I did what I thought, what my team thought was the right thing to do.

 

Simon Adler:

Would you, would you run again?

 

El-Yateem:

Uh, sure. (laughs) Yes.

 

Robert:

Our story was reported and produced by Simon Adler.

 

Jad Abumrad:

With production help from Bethel Hopday and Annie McEwen.

 

Simon Adler:

Real quick, some special thanks to Obio Kawas and Polica Latinas, David Lewis and Bridget Burgen from the WNYC newsroom. Uh, Ralph Perfetto and Justin 1Brannan, Rebecca Shayson, David Fox, Saraj Karrie and Annie McCoon for their help gathering tape. Uh, the Muslim Democrats of New York, Salam Arabic Lutheran church and everyone on the Khader El-Yateem for city council team, uh, for putting up with me for eight months.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Obviously thanks to Simon.

 

Simon Adler:

You're welcome.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. Well ready and get out of here.

 

Robert:

I'm ready to go.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right.

 

Miguel:

Hi there. My name is Miguel [phonetic 01:10:53] and I'm calling from Kansas city, Missouri, and I'm going to read the credits. I apologize in advance if I mispronounce any of the names. Radiolab was created by J. Havemrod and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Our staff includes; Simon Adler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Hoptey, Tracy hunt, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Anyie McEwen, Latif, Nasser, Melissa O Donald, Ariana Wack, and Molly Webster. With help from Amanda Aronchick, Shee Molly, David Fox, and Gar Fatali, Phoebe Wang and Katie Ferguson. Our fact checker is Michelle Harris.

 

Copyright © 2019 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at www.wnyc.org for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.