Waseem Ahmad’s Spectacular Success in Local Elections
By Mohammad Ashraf Chaudhry
Success does not come for free. And certainly not in the American political system. Success becomes more elusive and much harder when the odds become many and multi-faceted, and the stakes keep getting higher and higher. But it does come in an astounding and spectacular manner to those who, as Islam says, make “serving others as a beautiful loan to Allah”. Yes, success is intrinsically linked with sustained service and passion.
Waseem Ahmad, 45, is a small business owner in a town called Chowchilla in the County of Madera. Some 20% Muslims in America are either self-employed or own a small business. The real dilemma of the Muslim community is that in the American society where the population of American Muslims is higher than the national average, they do not feel the urge to partake in the American mainstream politics. The result is that they do not have perhaps a single American Muslim in their legislature. This assertion could be wrong, but it appears so in such States as California, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. The reason is not that Muslims do not register themselves for voting. In fact, 79-80% of them are registered to vote. It is also not right to assume that they have a poor understanding of the American political system, and of the opportunities that can become available to those who venture because most of them are educated. Perhaps they are too much embroiled in the politics of the countries they once left behind.
In my perception, the reason for this neglect is hidden in two perceptions and both have a foreign origin. Politics is a dirty game. They think so because it happens so in the country of their origin. Second, the only two professions good for them for living a happy and prosperous life are Medicine and Engineering. This too is not true.
The third and a very valid reason, according to this scribe, is that most often than not, those who venture to step in the field of politics, do so from a wrong end. On the ladder to political power in America, they start somewhere half way on the ladder and thus fall spectacularly. Waseem avoided that trend. He started from where the actual American political system starts. A good start is half success.
Some seventeen years ago, I remember, when the Ahmad brothers as Waseem and his three brothers are called, bought a gas station in Chowchilla, hardly anyone in the Bay Area in the Muslim community to which they belong could claim to have heard about it, notwithstanding the famous case of “The Bus Kidnapping of Chowchilla”, in 1976, which had put this small sleeping town of California with a queer name which means, “Murderers”, all of a sudden in the National limelight, and had made the incident, according to Arnold P. Rubin, as one of the “True Great Mysteries”.
The Ahmed brothers did not just buy a business in an unfamiliar town which characterized itself for having predominantly an 80.9% of white population; 52.8% Latino or Hispanic; 3.3% African-American and a speck of less than 2% of Asians, and then run it like foreigners, returning nothing to the local people. Of the 20% Muslim-Americans hardly .001% ever bother to visit the local Chamber of Commerce though it relates to them directly. They visit the city office, or meet the local Council Member only when they encounter a problem, or when they have to apply for a business license. They run the business in that area like the Colonist British ran India or the West Africa.
It was a really smart move on the part of the Ahmad Brothers, and especially on the part of Waseem, that he began probing into the trends, likes and dislikes of the local people. Business became a tool for them for building an intimate bond of relationship with the locals. They invested further in the area by buying a home and a piece of land in order to establish the relationship of belonging to the area on firm and sterling grounds.
Waseem rightly and cautiously began participating in the town-hall meetings of the City Council to know what the town and the people needed, and what kind of peculiar problems they faced; he became an active member of the District Chamber of Commerce of Chowchilla till he secured its directorship, and ended up serving its President for two terms. That was the right start to build relationship and rapport with the local population where he and his brothers were totally new and even different.
Being a Muslim and immigrant of Pakistan-origin in Chowchilla could never be construed as something conducive and helpful. Rather staying faithful to ones religion in a town that is known for having two things - maximum number of churches, 17, and rehabilitation centers or jails - while pursuing a political passion looked like a contradiction. Waseem kept both amicably.
Local politics in America is all about two things: service and personal relationships. Often it is above party politics, and even above ethnicity and religious preferences. As is proven in Waseem’s case. His tenacity and his investment in people through personal contact and service delivered him rich dividends.
He stayed in touch with the city elected officials through extensive volunteer work till he earned for himself the membership of the Parks and Recreation Commission. From there he moved next to earning for himself the membership of the City’s Planning Commission. He stayed on the Planning Commission for 12 years till he became its two-term President.
So starting from owning a small business and moving slowly but gradually from the District Chamber of Commerce to the Park and Recreation Commission to the Planning Commission, Waseem finally reached a point where he felt that the time had come to give himself a try in the local elections. Last time he failed just by a few votes in the election of Local Council Members, and this time he succeeded by securing the maximum number of votes, 814 which had been 33% of the total votes.
Waseem’s success is singularly spectacular. He became a Member of the City Council, and by virtue of securing the maximum number of votes and by dint of his service record and trust of the other five members of the Council, he also came to be chosen as the Pro Tem Mayor of the city of Chowchilla. So, Waseem would be the first Muslim Mayor of Chowchilla acting in the absence of the Mayor.
There is a message for the aspiring Muslims who want to tread in this forgotten and neglected field of politics. Make the right start; if you own a business, do not run it like an alien, give back to the local people by making investment in that town; participate in the town-hall meeting and do volunteer work and keep yourself abreast of the local issues; be an active member of various commissions, develop speaking skills, and keep sharpening the saw. At the end, you will see that honest service transcends all other religious, racial, and ethnic considerations.
Waseem has proven that. The Muslim community of the Islamic Center of East in Antioch from where he hails takes special pride in acknowledging the accomplishments of Waseem. Local politics, as said earlier, is all local. One may run into the Mayor of the town at a Home Depot store; or meet ones councilor at a grocery store; and talk to them if there is a pot-hole in the street; if the street-lights are not working; if there is an issue of car-racing going on in the street; if the school bus is not visiting your area. One does not need to go to Sacramento or Washington. The police, the fire department, the business related issues; the property taxes, all relate to the City Government. So being a part of it is the first step on the ladder to Sacramento or Washington. Waseem is open-minded, and he believes in working together with other Council Members and with the Mayor, and we feel he has a career in politics.
Chowchilla is an agriculture-based community, and water shortage could be a big issue there. So could be the maintenance of an effective, efficient and satisfied Police force, and the Fire Department. Often small cities are fund-starved. How these issues are resolved will determine how well the Council Members and the new Mayor, Mr John Chavez, are qualified, and how creative they all are. Waseem, we all pray, would bring a good name to the Muslim community through his dedication and his quality of service like he has done so for.
Waseem Ahmed has served the community and residents of City of Chowchilla, County of Madera, California, for many years and a few of his services are:
- Two terms President of Chowchilla District Chamber of Commerce
- Two terms Planning Commissioner for City of Chowchilla
- Currently serving as an active member of the County of Madera workforce development Corporation Board
Local friends and residents encouraged him to represent City of Chowchilla as a Council member and he decided to run and won the November 2014 local election with a good margin. He is ready to take responsibilities as a Council member to represent the City and is looking forward to work with local residents to solve their problems.
Waseem has the necessary insight to understand what it takes to bring jobs and generate tax revenue to balance the budget. As a City Council member, he wants to improve public safety and transparency of financial accountability.