Monday, January 09, 2006

Karachi Calling, Revisited: Mystery of District F Council Election Revealed, Perhaps, Unintentionally and Belatedly

Edward Hegstrom reported in Monday's Houston Chronicle on a “simmering feud” (is there a feud that doth not simmer?) within Houston’s Pakistani community between bankrupt restaurateur Ghulam Bombaywala and Slampo’s Place’s man on City Council, M.J. Khan. The exact origin of this feud is not explained in the story, most likely ’cause it’s way too abstruse for a mere mortal to get a handle on, although one of the proximate causes appears to be the direction of the Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston and the decision by Bombaywala, the organization’s president, not to purchase an old grocery store (current owner unspecified) in southwest Houston to house what the story describes as a “multimillion-dollar” Pakistani Community Center.

We’ll take a not-so-wild swing here and conjecture that this feud was behind the November general election challenge to M. J. Khan by mystery man K. A. Khan, who as is our practice will henceforth be referred to as “Scooter” so we can avoid confusing our Khans. This challenge (on which we waxed semi-eloquently here and here), had, as we suspected, nothing to do with routine dissatisfaction with an incumbent and everything to do with some dispute among local Pakistanis that remained unknown and unintelligible to the larger world, most especially to the residents of M. J. Khan’s District F. M. J. claims he doesn’t know what it’s about, either.

The election turned out OK (that is, to our satisfaction), and K. A. “Scooter” (Christian name: Khalid) managed to pull only 14 percent of the vote (truly disturbing was the 16 or so percent tallied by crazy man John Shike, who must have benefited by having the only English-sounding name in the all-Pakistani race), but only after voters were hit with a flurry of last-minute recorded phone messages on Councilman Khan’s behalf from the likes of Mayor Bill White, Sylvester Turner and Sheila Jackson Lee (White was particularly exacting in emphasizing the incumbent’s initials: “That’s M.J. Khan for City Council.”)

However, as we noted, Scooter Khan managed to scare up a sizable amount of money for a challenger to a council incumbent---more than $60,000, according to his pre-election disclosure---and it appears that all of it came from fellow Pakistanis (including a $5,000 chip from a Shuaib Bumbaywala [sic]). Meanwhile, M.J. Khan raised what appeared to be a legitimate question about whether Scooter actually had a residence in the district that would qualify him to hold the office (we’ll bore you some other time with the story of the verbal confrontation we had outside our polling place with four of Scooter’s card pushers---three African-Americans who sounded as if they were from New Orleans and a tall, sleepy-eyed Pakistani gent in a baseball cap who was introduced to us, sort of, as Scooter’s brother).

All this sound may sound like trivial, teeth-grinding bullshit, yet the mere possibility that our representation on city council could be the plaything of some opaque “feud” is a tad sobering, no? It leaves us wondering why the Chronicle made no effort to get to the bottom of this “feud” before the election. The newspaper is big on self-righteous and/or sentimental evocations of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” (it shares with the storied Fort Wayne Sentinel the distinction of running that inane “Cultural Coach” column), yet it rarely expends the energy to tell the larger world what’s really going on locally in these diverse communities (this fellow Hegstrom was one of the only local reporters, if not the only one, who did make the effort, so it figures that he has taken leave of the Chronicle, or so we're told---hope he's still being paid for those bylines).

We despair of ever learning the true nature of this a'simmerin' feud, so we’ll close out now with this, from the media critic William Powers, No. 2 in his series of “Seven Steps to Salvation” for the “old media,” as found in the Spring 2005 issue of the Wilson Quarterly (we retrieved our copy from one of the Bellaire city recycling bins and have been carrying it around in hopes that people we’ll think we’re smart):
2. Enjoy yourselves: If only your news products were pout together in the same spirit of exuberant creativity [as the Apple iPOD]. Sadly, traditional news outlets have become joyless things. Most American broadsheet newspapers are dull, fearful creatures. There’s little effort to be different or original, whether with Washington news or the latest tawdry true-crime trial. Pack journalism rules, because it’s safe.”

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