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Letter sent to Temple Terrace homes says Muslim candidate unfit for office

By Paul Guzzo, For Tampa Bay Times, On 26 October 2016, Read Original

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TEMPLE TERRACE — City Council candidate Wael Odeh has lived more than three decades in this town of 25,000 straddling the Hillsborough River.

He is a husband, father of four and grandfather of three. As a civil engineer, he has designed bridges and roads throughout the United States.

Odeh is also a Muslim, born in Palestinian territory, and someone believes that’s enough to disqualify him from election to the City Council.

An anonymous letter has been mailed to a number of addresses in Temple Terrace questioning whether City Hall is safe with a Muslim working there and whether Odeh has ties to terrorism.


Odeh is offended by the blanket implications.

“If it was directed at me personally it would not be an issue, but this thing is hitting the more than 40,000 Muslims living in the Tampa Bay area,” Odeh said. “It is absurd. Not every Muslim is radical. We are human beings.”

The typewritten, single-spaced, one-page letter is dated October 2016. Among a number of questions it poses: “Could Odeh’s election be a foot in the door of Sharia Law’s subtle influence in our community?”

“This is an unfortunate attempt to split the community,” Odeh said. “We are trying to put the community back together.”

Sharia is the detailed system of religious law developed by Muslim scholars in the early centuries of Islam and still in force among fundamentalists.

Among other questions raised in the letter are why Odeh has not revealed in campaign mailers where he was born.

Odeh’s response: “Does he want to know where the other candidates were born?” He notes that he has lived in the United States for 38 of his 56 years and says, “My country now is America.”

The letter also questions whether he forces his wife into a subservient role, as do some observers of sharia.

“My wife is definitely not subservient to me,” Odeh said with a chuckle.

In addition, the letter says the Council on American-Islamic Relations endorses Odeh and claims the group has links to terrorism. CAIR is a nonprofit civil rights organization focused on promoting a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America, according to its website. Its non-profit status prohibits candidate endorsements.

In a statement to the Times, CAIR Florida’s government affairs director Laila Abdelaziz said, “This unfounded and slanderous attack on Mr. Odeh is concerning, and we hope Temple Terrace residents, community leaders and neighbors will reject its Islamophobic message.”

Still, Temple Terrace City Council member Grant Rimbey said he worries the truth may not matter to a certain block of voters.

“That is the sad reality,” Rimbey said. “I think there is racism in the city” and there are people “who want to keep Temple Terrace looking like it did in 1952 forever.”

Rimbey and Odeh estimate that 20 to 25 percent of Temple Terrace’s population is Muslim.

The anonymous letter came in envelopes identifiable only by a St. Petersburg postmark. The addresses were printed on mailing labels. Rimbey said he heard from a dozen recipients of the letter, one an Episcopal church — an indication, he said, that the sender was seeking a mass audience.

Most seem to have been sent to addresses on the north end of the city, where he said voters generally are registered as Republicans.

Overall, Temple Terrace voters are mostly Democratic, with 7,754 registered in the party compared to 4,891 Republicans and 4,036 with no party affiliation, according to the most recent Hillsborough County supervisor of elections numbers.

The City Council race is bipartisan.

Six candidates have applied for two open seats on the council; the two candidates recording the most votes Nov. 8 will fill the positions.

Odeh said he invites anyone with questions about Muslims to reach out to him — including the author of the anonymous letter.

“If he wanted to learn more, he should have come to me directly.”

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