Several thousand people showed up at Waterworks Park on in February for the Arab American Community Center festival, along with two mayoral candidates and more than a dozen City Council candidates — a sign of the political influence of Tampa’s growing Muslim and Arab-American community.

It’s concentrated in the Temple Terrace-New Tampa area, drawn by the University of South Florida, and community leaders want to make it into a political force.

“It’s following the strategy of the Cuban-Americans, recognizing our electorate is very split and a one-percent swing can change the outcome of an election,” said Laila Abdelaziz, who came to USF in 2009 because of the Muslim community and then worked as a community organizer. Abdelaziz noted Bob Buckhorn’s narrow 2011 win for mayor followed an endorsement and field work from the Muslim community.

No one knows big the community is, but Tarah Saadaldin of Muslims for Democracy and Fairness, a local PAC, said there are estimates of 5,000 to 6,000 Muslims just in the Temple Terrace area, based on attendance at mosques and Islamic schools. Prominent Arab-American Lawyer Sam Badawi said on a per-capita basis, it could rival Dearborn, Mich., one of the nation’s biggest Arab-Amerian concentrations.

Post-9/11 “Islamophobia” is the biggest unifying issue, said Saadaldin, citing incidents including hate mail sent out against a 2016 Temple Terrace City Council candidate and a 2017 arson at a Thonotosassa mosque.

The PAC has endorsed Stephen Lytle for Tampa City Council District 3 Citywide.

(Article details sourced from Tampa Bay Times Article dated 2/21/19 by William March)

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