On Saturday, Salman Bhojani was elected to the Euless City Council, triumphing over a conservative state lawmaker’s ugly campaign attacks on his religion and immigrant background. Bhojani, who will be the city’s first minority council member, defeated his opponent Molly Maddux by a margin of 37 votes.
Bhojani, a lawyer who moved to the U.S. from Pakistan 18 years ago, has portrayed his win as a victory for diversity and acceptance. In a city with 55,000 residents, about 50 percent are people of color, which should be reflected on the council, he says. But both during and after the campaign, Bhojani has tried to focus on nonpartisan local issues. Bhojani spent the last four years on the city’s parks and recreation board, and ran unsuccessfully for a council seat two years ago.
It was Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative backing Maddux, who injected Bhojani’s Muslim faith into the race via social media posts. Bhojani says he had to field some questions and endure innuendo about his religion while campaigning—a voter who told him to go back to his country, another who asked him if he intended to institute Shariah law in Euless. Bhojani attributes much of that to an ignorance of Islam, likening it to the suspicion that many voters in 1960 felt toward President John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism, never mind the separation between church and state.
“People don’t know about my faith, and because they don’t know they get concerned,” he says. “Words like ‘Shariah’ and ‘jihad’ are buzzwords that rile people up. Muslims follow the law of the land, so I vow to uphold the Constitution.”
Most voters clearly rejected Stickland’s attacks, and Bhojani says he’s proud to have the support of Euless residents. (Stickland’s office did not return messages seeking comment, but he congratulated the election winners in a Facebook post.)
“It’s powerful. People who have shown support say I’m representing true American values by fighting the good fight, so our kids don’t face discrimination tomorrow,” Bhojani says. “It’s uplifting to lay a foundation for people of different faiths and ethnicities.”
As an immigrant who went from mopping gas station floors, to owning several stores while attending law school, to opening up his own law firm, Bhojani has lived the American Dream. It’s what encouraged him toward public service, and to give back to his country, he says. That, more than his faith, is what should resonate with Euless residents.
“You need to know the actions of people,” he says. “I have only done good for the city of Euless.”
Bhojani hopes to bring a unique perspective to governing Euless, informed by his legal background and his work as a small business owner. In a statement after the election, he pledged to “represent all Euless residents, regardless of whether and for whom they voted, where they come from, how long they have lived in Euless, what faith they practice, or what political party they support.” He’ll be sworn in later this month.