Originally set for Tuesday night (Oct. 19, 2021), a SeaTac and Tukwila city council candidate forum organized by the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has apparently fallen apart after some candidates withdrew, citing allegations of workplace harassment, union busting and gender discrimination against the nonprofit’s national chapter as well as its Florida and California chapters.
While CAIR-Washington has not publicly canceled the forum and did not respond to requests for comment for this story, a Zoom link to the virtual event is no longer active and some candidates say they were told the forum had been canceled or postponed with no future event date set.
On Friday, one Tukwila City Council candidate received an email from CAIR-Washington Youth and Advocacy Coordinator Najma Osman titled “Cancellation: CAIR Washington Candidate Forum (10/19/21)” in which Osman wrote, “… due to some recent developments we will be postponing this event until further notice.”
After SeaTac City Council candidates Jake Simpson (Position No. 2) and Iris Guzman (Position No. 6) each posted a joint statement on Facebook on Oct. 11 announcing their withdrawal from the forum, CAIR-Washington representatives reached out to discuss their decision, the candidates said.
“We discussed things and they told us on the call that either way … multiple candidates have decided to pull out so the event probably isn’t going to happen anyway,” Simpson said.
Simpson and Guzman’s joint decision to withdraw, after the two had initially agreed to participate, came after they and some other candidates received emails from a group called the WeCAIR Coalition for Accountability & Islah-Reform that informed the candidates of allegations of workplace harassment, union busting and gender discrimination against CAIR, which received widespread national attention after NPR published a story about the allegations on April 15, 2021.
“To me, it was just about integrity,” said Guzman, who said Monday that she had not heard definitively whether CAIR-Washington had canceled the forum. “I definitely wanted to stand up for those who have potentially been victimized. We can’t just turn a blind eye to those allegations.”
After receiving the same emails from WeCAIR informing him of the allegations, Tukwila City Council Position No. 7 incumbent De’Sean Quinn said he, too, withdrew from the forum, though he did not do so publicly, instead emailing CAIR-Washington to let them know he wouldn’t be participating.
“I was hoping to hear back from the organizer and I haven’t heard anything,” said Quinn, adding that he thought it “prudent to step away” after seeing the allegations in emails from WeCAIR, even though it was not clear who exactly was responsible for sending those emails.
“A lot of us were notified from, it wasn’t clear who from, but they notified us that there were some internal issues or some labor-related issues,” Quinn said.
After Simpson and Guzman posted their statements on Facebook, the candidates said they received thank-you messages from a former chapter development director for CAIR-National who resigned in 2018, published internal CAIR documents and communications, and has been accused in a lawsuit by CAIR of attempting to defame the nonprofit civil rights group.
Upon receiving the emails about allegations against CAIR, Simpson said he was initially anxious that the WeCAIR emails might be an unjustified attack on an influential Muslim civil rights group.
“I was kind of leery of that and so I poked around,” Simpson said, noting that the fact that NPR had reported on the allegations assured him that they should be taken seriously. “I stand by the statement that I put out on my Facebook.”
Nicholas Johnson (he/him) is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer who grew up in Boulevard Park, graduated from Highline High School and studied journalism at Western Washington University. Send news tips, story ideas and positive vibes to [email protected].