Passaic Democrats mull Merhi’s future

Passaic County Democrats are meeting tomorrow to decide whether they want to stick with embattled Freeholder candidate Sami Merhi, an Arab-American businessman whose controversial comments about terrorism has caused a deep split among local Democrats and has caused leaders in the Jewish and Arab communities — in New Jersey and in Washington — to suddenly pay attention to a race for county office. Last Saturday, the Passaic Democratic organization voted 13-10 to support Merhi over Joanne Graziano, a Hawthorne Board of Education member and a teacher in Paterson. Within two days, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Governor Jon Corzine led a group of Democrats who said that Merhi’s remarks at a 2002 political event made it impossible for them to support him, and Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie quickly called for another meeting to discuss the future of Merhi’s campaign. Merhi has now publicly said that there is “no way” he made the comments attributed to him in the New York Times article — though the fact that it took him a full four years to accuse the New York Times of inventing its story make his current allegations appear less than credible. Congressman Bill Pascrell, who was Merhi’s chief advocate during the candidate selection process, publicly stood by Merhi — but privately, Pascrell, under pressure from key Democrats and Jewish community leaders, has sent strong signals that he would not mind seeing Merhi drop his Freeholder bid. Arab American leaders say that dumping Merhi was discrimination, and the Herald News has suggested that Democrats keep Merhi and let the voters decide if they want to elect him — not necessarily a solid plan, one strategist said, since the politically impotent Passaic County GOP has shown no signs of mounting a strong campaign. Assemblyman Gary Schaer, an Orthodox Jew from Passaic, offered his own compromise to fellow Democrats: dump Merhi because of his comments, but replace him with another Arab American. Currie, who had backed Graziano initially, appears to be leaning toward supporting her again.

Passaic Democrats mull Merhi’s future