Election Of Muslims A Start To Changing Gop’s Image; Dupage Party Aims For More Diversity

By John Biemer Tribune staff reporter No one would mistake a gathering of DuPage County Republicans for the United Nations, but the party took a significant step last week toward shaking its image as a party dominated by “old white-haired men” when Moin Moon Khan and Esin Busche were elected township trustees. Party officials say as far as they can tell, Khan, an Indian-born longtime Chicago-area activist who works as a computer network administrator, and Busche, a Turkish-born chemist, are the first Muslim Republicans elected to public office anywhere in the state–and a symbol of the party’s new outreach effort in a rapidly diversifying county. “This is a small office, and for me it may be a very small individual achievement,” said Khan. “However, I think it’s a giant milestone for the minority communities in general and the Muslim American community in particular.” Rasheed Ahmed, coordinator of the Illinois Muslim Political Coordinating Council, also called their elections “an important milestone,” but noted that there are hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Illinois–and an estimated 6 million to 8 million across the United States. “It’s only natural,” he said. “I’m not surprised. One could say perhaps that it’s even late.” Khan, who lives in Lombard, won a York Township trustee seat last week with 12.6 percent of the vote. He finished last out of the four Republicans elected trustee, beating out Bob Wagner, who came closest of four Democratic trustee candidates with 11.8 percent of the vote. Busche, who lives in Naperville, was elected Naperville Township trustee last week with 17.9 percent of the vote–also last among four Republicans elected to that office, but five points ahead of the closest Democrat. Republicans won every one of the 72 township offices on the DuPage ballot in last week’s municipal election, so having the support of such a well-entrenched political organization didn’t hurt. Both Khan and Busche served as GOP committeemen for a handful of years before making their runs. Muslims don’t tend to naturally gravitate to either party, Ahmed said, because there are parts of both the Democratic and Republican positions that appeal to them. But Khan pledged as a candidate to reach out to a variety of immigrants that he says make up a sizable chunk of the tax base in his district, although they are underrepresented in government. That message resonated beyond the Muslim community–but so did Khan’s decades of work for such organizations as the DuPage Minority Caucus, the Asian American Institute and the Council of Islamic Organizations in Illinois. “I’ve seen him as a person who’s concerned with the welfare of people and such,” said Shanker Pillai, president of the Hindu Chinmaya Mission in Hinsdale. “And in this time of religious and social animosities developing, he’s stood beyond those barriers.” Asian populations in DuPage County have skyrocketed in recent years–growing by 80 percent from 1990 to 2000. As of 2000, Asians made up 7.9 percent of the suburban county, according to the U.S. Census, almost as much as the even faster growing Hispanic community–another group wooed by both political parties. DuPage Democratic Party Chairwoman Gayl Ferraro said her party also has tried to tap into the intensifying political activity of Asian immigrants in recent years. She points to Chodri Khokhar, chair of the Bloomingdale Township Democrats–a Muslim Pakistani immigrant. “We always welcome everybody into our party; we’re very diverse,” Ferraro said. “I’m kind of colorblind when it comes to all that stuff.” Republican officials concede that the GOP did not do a great job in the past of reaching out to new communities. But Paul Hinds, chairman of the York Township Republican Party, said the time has come for the party to better reflect the constituency. “We get pegged too much as 70-year-old white-haired men. That’s a stereotype we always have to work against,” he said. “That’s not what we are.” Still, there were risks involved. Khan acknowledges that Hinds may have displeased some party loyalists when he pushed Khan to run for the post. And party leaders questioned how voters would receive the candidates–noting that their vote counts did lag behind other Republican office-seekers. “I’m not going to kid anyone,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), chairman of the DuPage County GOP. “I was worried that someone named Moon Khan would lose to someone named Susan O’Brien or Robert Wagner. But if Barack Obama could win, Moon Khan should clearly win, and he did.” “I know my name was quite different from other people,” Busche said in agreement. “But I tried to introduce myself to people in my community. I guess people, once they get to know you, the name doesn’t play any part.”