In WA, Old Mining Town Elects a Muslim Mayor

November 18, 2009

Author: Manuel Valdes

Source: Google News

Wire Service: AP

Granite Falls residents are suspicious of any newcomers, let alone a Muslim native of Pakistan who moved to this rugged, blue-collar mining town to open his own bar.

But 54-year-old Haroon Saleem has thrived, winning over the town with hard work and an easy smile. He has become so popular that, on Nov. 3, he won the mayor's job in a landslide, getting 61 percent of the more than 800 votes cast — a result that residents say would have been inconceivable not long ago.

"In the old Granite Falls, there were no minorities. It was a rough, rough, logging town. Any outsider, whether a minority or somebody from Everett, was the same. It was very difficult to be accepted in this town," said Sharon Ashton, a close confidant of Saleem.

Saleem said he was nervous about being accepted, and hired a white assistant manager to ease local concerns when he opened his bar in 2000.

"I was kind of scared, you know," he says.

But he was embraced virtually from the start.

"That tells you how good and great of a community Granite Falls is," he says with a slight accent. "They didn't care ... I am who I am, and people love me for that, and I just love people. People know that I am smart, I am a businessman. In the big scheme of things, all these qualities have made me, got me to where I am today."

See also: Islam, Civic