Faisal Gill is the new interim chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party and the first Muslim to lead a major state party. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)Buy Photo
When Faisal Gill was running for state office in Virginia, he had a hard time convincing people he was the Republican candidate. Gill, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United States, said people would make assumptions about his politics based on his appearance and Muslim faith.
They open the door, and they go, Oh sorry, I vote Republican, Gill recalled, adding later, If you re a minority, you re going to feel uncomfortable in the Republican party.”
He lost that 2007 election and, after losing common ground with Republican policies, left the party altogether to become a Democrat. Gill moved to Winooski, where his immigrant background and Muslim faith continue to undergird his political career, with new importance under the anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies of President Donald Trump. Gill was elected this month as the new chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. He believes he is the first Muslim in the United States to ever lead a state political party.
Nadeem Mazen, the founder of a Massachusetts-based organization working to get Muslims and minorities involved in community organizing and civic life, was unable to confirm that Gill is the first state party leader but said it’s “almost certainly true.” Mazen said Muslims are underrepresented in politics, but he believes that in the wake of Trump’s election, people on the political left are more likely than before to recognize and disregard Islamophobia.
“When Donald Trump sees me all he sees is a terrorist,” Gill said at a February pro-refugee rally in Montpelier, according to an Associated Press report. Well, I say you’re the terrorist, you’re the one preaching terror, you’re the one preaching violence, you’re the one preaching hate, he said of Trump. Tim Jerman, vice-chairman of the party and Gill s personal friend, said some Democrats supported Gill to send a message about diversity and inclusion to Trump and national politicians.
He is a symbol, said Jerman, of Essex Junction. He doesn t mind being in that position. He s pretty vocal about it. Overall, Gill says he has experienced more pushback in Vermont for being a former Republican than for being Muslim.
From Pakistan to Winooski
Gill, 44, is affable, well-spoken and seems never to take offense at people who attack him online by picking apart his past associations and statements.
“What we need to do right now is we need to win the hearts and minds of people as a Muslim community,” Gill said in an interview this week. “You know, laws aren t going to change it. There is a lot of angst in the American community about Muslims. Are they loyal? Are they real Americans? Do they really view this as their country and not, you know, just here for a little bit or still have their allegiances to their previous countries? Those are all fair questions. They re all fair questions. And I think what they need to see, what Americans need to see, is we are. We are absolutely loyal to this country.”
After immigrating from Pakistan with his family at 8 years old, Gill was raised in a lower-income immigrant neighborhood in northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C., where his father worked as a cab driver. Gill says he was “moving with a bad crowd” in high school and at age 17 his girlfriend became pregnant with his oldest child.
“I was a complete statistic,” Gill said. “So had I not gone to college, I would have either been driving a cab or doing something of that sort.”
He attended community college, then American University, then law school, and joined the U.S. Navy as a lawyer in the JAG corps. After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Gill became a spokesman for Muslim groups, then joined the Bush administration in the Office of Homeland Security and Department of Homeland Security. Gill came under scrutiny in 2004 when news reports said he filled out a security clearance form without disclosing his prior work as a spokesman for the American Muslim Council, a now-defunct group whose founder, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was later convicted for financial involvement in a plot to kill the Saudi crown prince. Gill says he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the security clearance form because he worked for the American Muslim Council as a contractor, not an employee, and had disclosed the association on a separate ethics form.
“I didn t mislead. I didn t lie,” Gill said.
In 2014, documents released by Edward Snowden showed that the National Security Agency had monitored Gill’s emails from 2006 to 2008, the time period that included his campaign for office in Virginia. Gill believes he was targeted because of his Muslim faith.
A photo President Barack Obama and Faisal Gill at Gill’s office on Church Street in Burlington. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)
The incidents and controversies continue to follow Gill online; when he was elected this month as chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, a right-wing news website posted an alarming headline: “An FBI-investigated Islamist takes over the Vermont Democrats.”
Jerman, the vice-chairman of the party, said Gill has been forthcoming about his past and has been vetted numerous times, including during his state senate campaign. He and Gill are accustomed to negativity.
Generally, our response is call him up and talk to him about it, Jerman said. Today Gill runs a small corporate law firm from a Church Street office, representing information technology companies and others seeking government contracts in Washington. Gill and business partners also own a trucking company, Gill Transit, and an investment company, Gill Investment Group. He teaches a class at the Community College of Vermont, serves on the state Board of Medical Practice and the board of the advocacy group Justice for All. He supported a lawsuit over the basing of F-35 fighter jets at the Vermont Air National Guard in 2015. He lost a state senate campaign last fall and became the Democratic Party’s Chittenden County chairman.
In about five years in Vermont, Gill has quickly acclimated to state politics. He walked the halls of the Vermont Statehouse on Tuesday afternoon, huddling with Democratic Executive Director Conor Casey and shaking hands with fellow Democrats.
Faisal Gill is the new interim chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party and the first Muslim to lead a major state party. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)
Looking to 2018
Gill will serve as Democratic chairman until at least November, when he expects to seek another term in leadership. He wants to use his position to focus Democrats on lifting low-income Vermonters into the middle class through policies such as tuition-free public college, single-payer health care and paid family leave.
“People have been sending me emails and stuff about how they re disenchanted with the party,” Gill said. “You hear that on the national level, and you also hear that on the state level.”
Gill will try to draw people back into the Democratic Party, build party organization, cultivate candidates, and speak out on state issues while continuing to speak about national politics in opposition to Trump. Jerman, the vice-chairman, said party fundraising will be a particular challenge. Political parties are no longer able to solicit money from lobbyists during the legislative session, which Jerman says has limited traditional fundraising, and the new small-donations fundraising model popularized by Sen. Bernie Sanders is labor-intensive.
He s coming in at a very difficult time for the Democratic Party, Jerman said. There s no sugar coating. Much of Gill s work will focus on how to position Democrats to retake the governor s seat from Republican Gov. Phil Scott in 2018. The Democratic candidate last year, Sue Minter, was defeated by about 8 percentage points.
We need to have a clearer message, Gill said. We need to let Vermonters know that we are the party that does speak for the working person, does speak for the middle class. Maybe we didn t do a good enough job of getting that out in 2016.
Faisal Gill is the new interim chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party and the first Muslim to lead a major state party. (Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS)
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WASHINGTON – Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., joined 22 other senators late last week in introducing legislation to rescind President Trump s executive order to construct a border wall and ramp up deportations and detentions of undocumented immigrants. Trump s executive order, signed January 25, mandates the immediate planning and construction of a wall along the entirety of the U.S. southern border with Mexico, expands the controversial 287(g) program that allows state and local authorities to carry out federal immigration statutes, requires Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire 5,000 additional agents, and calls for increased removals and detentions of undocumented immigrants.
If the president wants to reform our immigration system, he should start with a bipartisan proposal in Congress, not this harmful executive order that would stick taxpayers with a massive bill, Wyden said. Mass deportations round up innocent people who contribute to our communities every day. It s hard to see how kicking out these Oregonians makes us any safer. In addition to Wyden, the bill was introduced Thursday by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Chris Coons, D-Del., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Tammy Duckworth D-Ill., Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Al Franken, D-Minn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Tim Kaine, D-Va., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. are original co-sponsors of the legislation.
Here are the opponents’ arguments against construction of an expanded border wall:
The proposed wall would be incredibly expensive, with American taxpayers set to bear the cost. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that it will cost $21 billion to build the wall, not including the costs to acquire land. The President maintains that Mexico will pay for the wall, a claim that Mexico and most Republicans deny. The Trump Administration is considering unacceptable cuts to important DHS agencies in Fiscal Year 2018, including the Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration (TSA), on top of an increase in DHS s overall budget in order start to pay for expenses associated with this ill-advised executive order. These cuts will harm aviation security and drug interdiction efforts, likely making Americans less secure.
There is no evidence that more wall is needed. There are already some 650 miles of fencing at the border where DHS has determined it is most effective. The non-partisan GAO has found that DHS has no metrics showing how much additional security benefit a border wall would add. The terrain at the border cannot be secured with a one-size-fits-all solution. Areas that have not been walled off include remote mountaintops and difficult to access riverbeds; privately owned land; and areas monitored by aerostats, motion sensors, and other proven force multiplier technologies; and deserts. President Trump s executive order does little besides deliver on a campaign promise to build a wall despite the proven effectiveness of less costly solutions to enhance our border security.
The aggressive construction timeline has high potential for waste. DHS has faced challenges staying on schedule and budget when making major acquisitions in the past, and acquisitions remain on the Department s high-risk list. Despite these challenges, the President s Executive Order requires the Secretary to construct a wall before he has even had the chance to assess what is needed to secure our border. This backwards timeline is a surefire way to waste taxpayer funds on an unnecessary wall, when other solutions would be more effective.
The executive order ramps up immigration enforcement programs that have proven to be costly and ineffective.The executive order also calls for the construction of new detention facilities at our southern border, which will likely house nonviolent undocumented immigrants at great expense to the taxpayer. Additionally, the order would grow the force of CBP agents by nearly 25%, necessitating a cut in hiring and training standards and leading the agency to hire candidates susceptible to corruption by drug cartels.
Don’t forget to view the Today In History Sideshow | Mar. 17 at the bottom of the page.
Today in History
Today is Friday, March 17, the 76th day of 2017. There are 289 days left in the year. This is St. Patrick’s Day.
Today’s Highlight in History:
On March 17, 1942, six days after departing the Philippines during World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia to become supreme commander of Allied forces in the southwest Pacific theater.
On this date:
In 1776, the Revolutionary War Siege of Boston ended as British forces evacuated the city.
In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed the first king of a united Italy.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt first likened crusading journalists to a man with “the muckrake in his hand” in a speech to the Gridiron Club in Washington.
In 1912, the Camp Fire Girls organization was incorporated in Washington, D.C., two years to the day after it was founded in Thetford, Vermont. (The group is now known as Camp Fire.)
In 1936, Pittsburgh’s Great St. Patrick’s Day Flood began as the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers and their tributaries, swollen by rain and melted snow, started exceeding flood stage; the high water was blamed for more than 60 deaths.
In 1941, the National Gallery of Art opened in Washington, D.C.
In 1956, comedian Fred Allen, 61, died in New York.
In 1966, a U.S. Navy midget submarine located a missing hydrogen bomb which had fallen from a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber into the Mediterranean off Spain. (It took several more weeks to actually recover the bomb.)
In 1969, Golda Meir became prime minister of Israel.
In 1970, the United States cast its first veto in the U.N. Security Council, killing a resolution that would have condemned Britain for failing to use force to overthrow the white-ruled government of Rhodesia.
In 1988, Avianca Flight 410, a Boeing 727, crashed after takeoff into a mountain in Colombia, killing all 143 people on board.
In 1992, 29 people were killed in the truck bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Whites in South Africa voted by a greater than 2-1 majority to forge ahead with talks to end white rule and give blacks voting rights for the first time in the country’s history. In Illinois, Sen. Alan Dixon was defeated in his Democratic primary re-election bid by Carol Moseley-Braun, who went on to become the first black woman in the U.S. Senate.
Ten years ago: Denouncing a conflict entering its fifth year, protesters across the country raised their voices against U.S. policy in Iraq and marched by the thousands to the Pentagon. John Backus, the developer of Fortran, a programming language that changed how people interacted with computers, died in Ashland, Oregon, at age 82.
Five years ago: Twin suicide car bombings killed at least 27 people near intelligence and security buildings in the Syrian capital of Damascus. John Demjanjuk (dem-YAHN’-yuk), 91, convicted of being a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor death camp, but who maintained his innocence, died in Bad Feilnbach (bahd FYLN’-bahk), Germany.
One year ago: The Obama administration formally concluded the Islamic State group was committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria. An Arizona man was convicted of a terror charge tied to an attack on a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, marking the second conviction in the U.S. related to the Islamic State group; Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, an American-born Muslim convert, was later sentenced to 30 years in prison. Finally bowing to years of public pressure, SeaWorld Entertainment said it would no longer breed killer whales or make them perform crowd-pleasing tricks.
Today’s Birthdays: The former national chairwoman of the NAACP, Myrlie Evers-Williams, is 84. Former NASA astronaut Ken Mattingly is 81. Singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly is 74. Singer-songwriter John Sebastian (The Lovin’ Spoonful) is 73. Former NSA Director and former CIA Director Michael Hayden is 72. Rock musician Harold Brown (War; Lowrider Band) is 71. Actor Patrick Duffy is 68. Actor Kurt Russell is 66. Country singer Susie Allanson is 65. Actress Lesley-Anne Down is 63. Actor Mark Boone Jr. is 62. Country singer Paul Overstreet is 62. Actor Gary Sinise is 62. Actor Christian Clemenson is 59. Former basketball and baseball player Danny Ainge is 58. Actor Arye Gross is 57. Actress Vicki Lewis is 57. Actor Casey Siemaszko (sheh-MA’-zshko) is 56. Writer-director Rob Sitch is 55. Actor Rob Lowe is 53. Rock singer Billy Corgan is 50. Rock musician Van Conner (Screaming Trees) is 50. Actor Mathew St. Patrick is 49. Actor Yanic (YAH’-neek) Truesdale is 48. Rock musician Melissa Auf der Maur is 45. Olympic gold medal soccer player Mia Hamm is 45. Rock musician Caroline Corr (The Corrs) is 44. Actress Amelia Heinle is 44. Country singer Keifer Thompson (Thompson Square) is 44. Actress Marisa Coughlan is 43. Rapper Swifty (D12) is 42. Actress Natalie Zea (zee) is 42. Actress Brittany Daniel is 41. Country musician Geoff Sprung (Old Dominion) is 39. Reggaeton singer Nicky Jam is 36. Pop/rock singer/songwriter Hozier is 27. Actress Eliza Hope Bennett is 25. Actor John Boyega is 25. Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky is 20. Actor Flynn Morrison is 12.
Thought for Today: “History is not life. But since only life makes history, the union of the two is obvious.” Louis D. Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941).