How Many Muslims?
December 17, 2001
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A news article in the national section of today's New York Times reports that "estimates of the total number" of the nation's Muslims "range from 4 million to 6 million." And a letter to the editor of today's New York Times claims there are "as many as seven million" Muslims living in America.
Yet as recently as October 28, 2001, a news article in the New York Times said America's Muslim population is "estimated variously at two million to six million." And the October 25, 2001, New York Times carried a news article about a CUNY sociologist who studied the American Muslim population and estimated its total size at "1.8 million adults and children."
In other words, to judge from the Times news report, in less than two months the low estimate of the American Muslim population has increased to "4 million" from 1.8 million. And to judge by the letter to the editor published in today's Times, the high estimate of the American Muslim population has gone to 7 million from 6 million over a similar period. Maybe all the publicity has led to a wave of new converts. Or maybe there's some exaggeration going on, and the Times isn't treating the estimates with much skepticism. It's hard to imagine that a letter claiming there are 500 million American Christians or 50 million American Jews would make it into the Times.
News Article: An original, non-Times-related news article follows: Meet Angel Rodriguez, A Frontrunner in Council Speaker's Race; He Calls Rudy 'One of the Worst Mayors in the History of the City'
By BENJAMIN SMITH
Now it looks like that distinction may go to Angel Rodriguez, a stolid accountant who appears to have as much in common with Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg as he does with the liberal Democrat Mr. Ferrer. The city councilman is a frontrunner to become the second most powerful elected official in City Hall, speaker of the New York City Council, a role that would make the little-known south Brooklyn politician a crucial player in making the toughest budget in decades.
But Mr. Rodriguez's short four years as a councilman raise more questions than they answer about where, exactly, he stands. On one hand he's a small businessman, a landlord, and a longtime fiscal hawk who warned of an impending crunch well before September 11. But Mr. Rodriguez, 44, also casts himself as a loyal Democrat who says he will fight to maintain or raise city spending on public schools, health care, and services for the aging, and will lobby Albany to reinstate the commuter tax. His mixed politics have left him open to an attack from some labor groups and has helped create an unexpectedly tight race for speaker.
"The liberals think IÕm conservative and the conservatives think I'm liberal," Mr. Rodriguez told Smartertimes.com. "On social things I'm very much to the left" of the Council majority, he said, but "on budgetary issues I tend to be more to the right, and on economic development I'm to the right."
In an interview, the compact, mustachioed Mr. Rodriguez declined to outline cuts he'd make to the strapped city budget. He also refused to suggest any legislation he favored. The only specific program he did advocate echoed proposals by the mayor-elect: Mr. Rodriguez said he'd work to encourage -- either through land-use rulings or financial support -- the development of high-tech, high-skill jobs in industries including biotechnology.
Mr. Rodriguez's record is about as hard to pin down as his future plans. The City Council, which now operates along strict party lines and under the tight control of the speaker, offers legislators little chance to develop meaningful voting records.
In one of the few divided votes during Mr. Rodriguez's tenure, he supported a law that limited landlords' liability for lead paint in apartments. The bill was supported by landlords and by Council Speaker Peter Vallone. Mr. Rodriguez is himself a landlord, listing between $10,000 and $40,000 in rental income from two buildings on the report he filed last year with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board.
Mr. Rodriguez has also been a voice for a balanced budget: he was warning of the city's fiscal gap well before September 11. In an article written this May for the website Gotham Gazette, he labeled the "annual imbalance" in the budget "the most important issue facing the City." He continued: "if our economy turns, these budget deficits will become enormous and extremely difficult to manage and may force cuts to important programs and/or tax increases." When asked about Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, his first criticism is financial: the mayor was "one of the worst mayors in the history of the city" -- not for aggressive policing or divisive politics, but for increasing the city's debt during an economic boom.
Another issue that offers a clue to Mr. Rodriguez's politics centers on plans to sell a city-owned warehouse in Red Hook to a developer for a Fairway supermarket, shops and offices. Mr. Rodriguez vowed to fight the plan because it didn't include any affordable housing -- something, he said, needed to prevent the project from being "isolated" from Red Hook. The project could face a vote in the city council this year, and the developer, Greg O'Connell of Kings Harbor View Associates, said he will accommodate the councilman's demands to include housing.
"If the housing component is what is necessary to make the project work, then we will do it," Mr. O'Connell said.
Mr. Rodriguez's short, enigmatic record hasn't kept the labor-backed Working Families Party and unions including the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!) and the Communications Workers of America from launching an unusually open campaign to derail Mr. Rodriguez's candidacy.
"Mr. Rodriguez has a less than stellar record of support for unions," the CWA political director for New York, Bob Master, said. "There is no reason to settle for someone with an uncertain record."
The labor groups who oppose Mr. Rodriguez say he's a supporter of issuing vouchers that would allow public school parents to send their children to private schools and of privatizing elements of public education. They base this claim on remarks they say he made in closed committee hearings and other meetings. But Mr. Rodriguez says he's "categorically" opposed to vouchers and to privatizing the management of public schools, at least until the schools are improved; and he ran this year with the endorsement of the anti-voucher United Federation of Teachers.
Much of Mr. Rodriguez's labor trouble stems not from specific issues but from his general distance from the movement. He won his first race against a candidate backed by major city unions, and has done little to build bridges since then. "The guy's reputation is that he doesn't return phone calls" from labor, a political consultant familiar with the stance of the unions who oppose Mr. Rodriguez said. "He launched a speaker candidacy without even talking to labor."
Mr. Rodriguez responds that he has a good relationship with the municipal unions and other more centrist labor groups. But the concerted, public attack in a contest usually conducted behind closed doors has left an opening for his leading rival for the speaker's post, Upper East Side Democrat A. Gifford Miller.
The race will depend largely on the decisions of Democratic leaders in Queens and the Bronx, who will steer the votes of the members they helped elect. Five other council members have also declared their intentions to become speaker. The race will be decided at the council's first meeting January 9 by a majority of the body's 51 votes.
While Mr. Rodriguez is under attack by the Princeton-educated Mr. Miller on the issues of labor and public education, he says his support for both is in his blood. He was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1957 to a mother who was a long-time member of one of the unions that would become UNITE!. He spent elementary school through college in public education, eventually receiving a degree in accounting from CUNY's College of Staten Island.
Mr. Rodriguez founded Small Business Accounting, which prepares tax returns and advises businesses on managing their finances. He is still a partner there, and drew an income between $20,000 and $60,000 from the company last year, according to documents filed with the conflicts of interest board.
With the support of the Democratic Party leaders in the city's biggest borough, Brooklyn, Mr. Rodriguez remains the man to beat in the city council race. He says he has the backing of at least 18 council members; 26 votes are required to win. But he has been put on his heels in recent weeks by Mr. Miller, and has not responded with particular adeptness.
At a candidates' debate this month, he began on the defensive: "Before I begin my opening statement, I want to dispel some rumors that have been floating around in the city for a while. The first rumor is that I am unsupportive of unions and union issues. This is totally untrue," he said.
After the meeting, his communications director, Lynn Schulman, pulled another candidate, Bill Perkins, aside. "Can you teach Angel to be a little smoother?" she asked.
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