Candidate Dumped over Terror Comments
By Wayne Parry

Trenton, NJ: Passaic County Democrats removed an Arab-American freeholder candidate from their ticket Saturday amid a furor over comments he made four years ago that some interpreted as sympathetic to suicide bombers.
"I'm in shock, feeling betrayed," said Sami Merhi, a Lebanese-born businessman from Totowa. "They should be ashamed of themselves."
At issue are comments Merhi made at a September 2002 fundraiser for US Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-Paterson. In his remarks, Merhi condemned the Sept. 11 terrorists as "cold-blooded murderers" and "crazy fanatics." When asked if he would apply the same label to Palestinian suicide bombers who target Israelis, Merhi said, "I can't see the comparison."
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier last week, Merhi said the point he was trying to make was that while all murder is wrong, the World Trade Center attack was mass murder on an unprecedented scale. It also was an attack in which his godson was killed.
After narrowly losing out on the party's nod in 2004 because of the comments, Merhi was endorsed by the party last week.
But after top Democrats, including Gov. Jon S. Corzine and US Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) weighed in, saying they opposed his candidacy, Passaic County party leaders scheduled a meeting to reconsider their endorsement.
Merhi said he appealed to party leaders during Saturday's meeting to support him and accept his explanation that his comments had been wrongly interpreted. He said he opposes terrorism in all its forms, and that killing innocent people is always wrong.
But he said party chairman John Currie told him, "We love you. We all like you. But this is about politics."
Currie did not immediately return messages left at his office and home Saturday.
Aref Assaf, a Palestinian activist and friend of Merhi, said he appealed to Currie as the chairman was walking into the meeting to support Merhi.
"He said, `This isn't about justice; it's about politics. Sami made a political mistake and he has to pay for it,"' Assaf recalled. "I knew he was done right then."
The party then withdrew its endorsement of Merhi and chose Joanne Graziano, a Hawthorne school board member, to run in his place.
"They have insulted an entire community," said Merhi, who runs a medical marketing firm with his business partner, an Israeli Jew. "I have done nothing to deserve this insult." (Courtesy Associated Press, 3/25/06),0,1187791.story



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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