Asima Azam’s cries of ‘identity politics’ ring hollow in Orlando City Council race

Asima Azam background

In modern politics, faith has always been somewhat of a double-edged sword.

For most voters, a candidate who embraces faith — no matter which faith that would be — is seen as a positive.

But in the case of Asima Azam, a real estate attorney vying to be the first Muslim-American elected to the Orlando City Council, the way she espouses her faith smacks of just a bit of hypocrisy.

It’s not that Azam is Muslim, which (unfortunately) has become a highly charged issue in recent American politics.

It is while Azam is certainly quick to proclaim her faith, as she does in an Orlando Sentinel profile piece, she is equally quick to condemn opponents for merely mentioning it.

In February, the Sentinel wrote: “Azam said she believed, and the Orlando Sentinel’s archives suggest, she would be the first Muslim to sit on the council.”

And when Fox 35 interviewed Azam, faith is in the very first question: “You would make history because you would be the first Muslim-American to be elected to Orlando’s City Council.” In response, she proudly accepted the description: “I am a second-generation Muslim-American. My parents came from Pakistan, I’m a wife, a mom and I’m a working mom …”

Again, diversity in representation, particularly on the municipal level, is always a good thing.

However, when Robert Stuart, Azam’s opponent for the District 3 seat, mentions in a polling question that she is Muslim-American — a fact she openly embraces — both Azam and Democrats were quick to cry “identity politics.”

You just cannot have it both ways.

Comparing her statements — where Azam self-identifies as Muslim — with the polling she decries, conducted by well-regarded Democrat pollster Jim Kitchens (also a resident of District 3), they are virtually identical.

Voters were asked if the following statement increased or decreased the likelihood they would vote for my opponent or if there was no impact: “Asima Azam is a wife, mom of three and a real estate attorney. She has served on Orlando’s Building and Zoning Board but has never run for political office before. News reports state that if she won, she would be the first Muslim American elected to the Orlando City Commission.”

If the question was divisive and troublesome, why is it that Fox 35 or the Sentinel are not guilty for doing, in essence, the exact same thing?

If Azam were truly offended, why did she repost and publish the question verbatim to her Facebook page? Why not refuse to answer the Fox 35 question, or object to the Sentinel headline?

One reason the campaign now finds it offensive could be to score some quick political points with “identity politics.” Indeed, Democrats were eager to take up the issue in a recent fundraising email.

Stuart’s campaign conducted a scientific poll, using a proper sampling of District 3 voters. There were no robocalls or push-polls. It was simply asking for positive and negative responses about Stuart and his opponent, their faith, and our community service.

Such surveys are commonplace, and often use identifying features (such as the way each candidate presents themselves) to gauge voter interest.

While Azam is impressive, it is hypocritical for her to tout her heritage one moment, and accuse others of identity politics the next.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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