Euless lawyer Salman Bhojani did it. After a losing run for City Council two years ago, he scored an apparent victory Saturday night, finishing 37 votes ahead of Molly Maddux when all the ballots were counted. While he still faces a potential recount — Maddux has not conceded, talked to the press or issued a statement since the results were announced — Bhojani looks set to become Euless' first minority City Council member when he's officially sworn in six days from now.
In and of itself, an immigrant lawyer who happens to be a Muslim winning an election in suburban Texas is news. That Bhojani did it in the face of his state representative makes it all the more impressive. During the last couple of weeks of the campaign, Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland made it his personal mission to help Maddux beat Bhojani.
Stickland called out Bhojani for being a Muslim. He called him a Democrat with dangerous values. He called him "sneaky." Somehow, even in one of the reddest districts in Texas, it didn't work.
"He brought out a lot of good people, so I guess it backfired on him," Bhojani told the Observer on Tuesday. "There was an amazing outpouring of support from the community in Euless. That's what I cherish. There is so much diversity in Euless, and it was amazing to reach out to everyone and really celebrate them."
After Stickland's attacks, Bhojani said, he received support from pastors and ministers across North Texas, including Bedford pastor Scott Fisher, who ran against Stickland in the 2016 GOP primary. In the end, Bhojani pulled out a victory despite trailing by 74 votes when early voting and absentee ballots were released.
"I really, really was awed by the support that we had," Bhojani said, "not just from people who voted for us, but people came from Plano, McKinney, Southlake, Colleyville and Bedford and said, 'We can't vote for you, but we're here with our kids to show them what it means to have American values.'"
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Stickland messed up, said Rice University professor Mark Jones, when he brought up Bhojani's religion, whether he views it as disqualifying or not, and raised Bhojani's profile.
"By intervening into a race, you call attention to the person that you're attacking. That can boomerang against you," Jones said. "It can increase sympathy or support for that candidate, or it educates voters that the candidate actually exists, where they might not have known that previously."
Stickland attempted to make a local, nonpartisan race about national issues, despite the fact that Bhojani, a member of the city's park board, never brought them up during his campaign.
"I have no agenda [beyond helping the city of Euless] at all. If it was there, you would have seen it during my four years on the park board. There isn't one thing, one vote where you can look back and say, 'Look, here is his agenda,'" Bhojani said. "There's nothing. I've done good work on the park board, and I've worked for the citizens of Euless. [The people who voted against me] will see the benefit of that as well."