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Politics

Leaders criticize Muslim bashing

Charlie Crist and Jim Davis condemn a Hernando couple's comments.

By ASJYLYN LODER
Published November 4, 2006


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The first couple of Hernando County's Republican Party find themselves increasingly at odds with GOP leaders from around the state for comments the pair made about Muslims.

Charlie Crist joined the critics Friday, condemning Mary Ann Hogan's comments that Islam is a "hateful, frightening religion." Crist's campaign unceremoniously removed Hogan, wife of Commissioner Tom Hogan Sr., from its Women for Crist Coalition.

"Charlie Crist believes that we must not confuse those who practice any religion with a prayer toward peace with extremists who pervert religion to further a radical cause," said campaign spokeswoman Erin Isaac. "He will not condone bigotry or discrimination in any form. For those reasons, Ms. Hogan will no longer be affiliated with the campaign."

A letter by Mary Ann Hogan to the St. Petersburg Times touched off the political firestorm. The heated last days leading into the election have fueled the controversy.

What began as a minor local controversy quickly spread, marring the careers of two of the county's most respected Republicans.

Crist has long known the Hogans. The couple's son went to law school with Crist, and the Hogan family has actively supported the Crist campaign.

The Hogans did not return calls for comment Friday afternoon.

Also on Friday, Jim Davis, Crist's opponent, issued a statement condemning the couple's remarks.

Ahmed Bedier, executive director for Tampa's chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said he was pleased at the swift response of both gubernatorial candidates and other leaders from around the state.

Mary Ann Hogan's letter criticized the county's involvement in a local celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the Oct. 23 festival marking the end of Ramadan, a holy month during which Muslims observe daily fasts.

In exchange for a $200 donation from a Muslim cardiologist, the county loaned children's games to the celebration and provided a county employee to pick up and drop off the games, said Pat Fagan, director of parks and recreation.

The games are available to any group for a $50 deposit, Fagan said. The pickup and delivery were not standard practice, but it occurred during regular business hours and the donation more than paid for the cost of labor. Both Fagan and County Administrator Gary Kuhl said they don't believe county employees did anything wrong.

"Don't the administrators of this county know that in honor of Ramadan the Muslims in Iraq have killed an even greater number of our soldiers and Marines than in the preceding months?" Mary Ann Hogan wrote. "The stated goal of the Muslim faith is to kill us, the 'infidels.' By providing county employees for their use Hernando County is sanctioning this hateful, frightening religion."

Told that some Muslims considered her comments bigoted, she responded Tuesday: "They can call it whatever they want to. I'm calling them barbarians. "

Tom Hogan Sr. said Tuesday that he agreed with his wife's comments. Asked if he thought Islam was a "hateful, frightening religion," he responded, "Overall, worldwide, it certainly is. Don't you read your own paper?"

Gov. Jeb Bush quickly condemned their remarks. On Wednesday, Alia Faraj, Bush's communications director, said, "There is no room for bigotry and hatred in the state of Florida. The governor is extremely disappointed in their inappropriate comments."

Bush appointed Tom Hogan Sr. to a vacant Hernando Commission seat in August.

On Thursday, Carole Jean Jordan, head of the state GOP, wrote to Tom Hogan Sr. criticizing his refusal to apologize.

"Yes, our nation is at war with a group of individuals who twisted the Islamic faith for their own horrific purposes," Jordan wrote. "This does not, however, give anyone the right to paint all Muslims with a broad brush, and the generalizations you have made are reprehensible."

Tom Hogan Sr. co-founded Hernando's Republican Executive Committee in the 1960s and served as its first chairman. He's been a state GOP committeeman for four decades.

Mary Ann Hogan served as a state committee member, then as the party's chairwoman during the 1970s. A former School Board member, she remains active in the party and Republican clubs and serves as a GOP precinct captain.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352 754-6127

[Last modified November 4, 2006, 07:37:57]


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