Some say a campaign flyer in the race for Rutherford County mayor goes too far. The mailer uses fake Arabic writing, and it all goes back to the fight over the Murfreesboro mosque.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been open for more than a year, but one candidate is now making the way it was approved in the first place a key issue in the election.
Jimmy Evans said he stands by the political mailer.
"The number one premise with it [is] we have a problem with the inadequate notice," Evans said.
The mailer is blaming County Mayor Ernest Burgess for the approval of the new mosque and cemetery, even though he's not on the planning commission or board of zoning appeals.
The advertisement goes on to blame Burgess for the issues related to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, including failing to provide adequate notice before the mosque plans were approved, not standing up to the U.S. Department of Justice when it came to the mosque and the county spending more than $340,000 to defend itself in the lawsuit over the construction.
"If you put us side-by-side, the differences are night and day. It's not mud-slinging or anything like that. If you read the mailer, it's informational, and details are there," Evans said.
Evans, the former leader of the Rutherford County Republican Party, claims in the flyer things would have been different if he was mayor.
He says this is not dirty politics.
"We didn't want to put something out there to the public that was confusing or edited in a certain way. We wanted to make sure we gave them a concise ability to read it," Evans said. "Everything in it is 100 percent true."
Voter Kay Buff said it will not sway her vote at all.
"I just think it's slanderous," Buff said. "I would vote for Mayor Burgess over the person who is printing things like this."
Islamic Center of Murfreesboro member Saleh Sbenaty said the flyer is laughable and the Arabic printed on it is fake.
"Trying to read this from left to right and make sense of this gibberish," Sbenaty said.
Sbenaty said he believes Evans is bringing religion into politics.
"Mr. Evans is using our community suffering and our community struggle to try and score a political point," he said.
Burgess told Channel 4 News this is all political, and the mosque situation is ancient news. He said he has and will continue to run a clean campaign.
His campaign manager, Gregory Gleaves, released the following statement:
"This is a desperate attack from a campaign on life support. It's hard to attack Mayor Burgess on merits, with Rutherford County having the second highest job growth in the country. Instead, Jimmy Evans is in the gutter with over-the-top and untrue attacks. An issue much more relevant to the campaign is that Jimmy Evans's used car lot business had an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. If he can't manage a used car lot, how can we expect him to manage the county? We will continue to focus on issues that matter to Rutherford Countians."
The mailer already has gotten the attention of the Council on American/Islamic Relations (CAIR). The group is asking the Tennessee GOP to repudiate the anti-mosque mailer which uses fake Arabic.
"It is unconscionable for any candidate to stoop to such a low level of campaigning by appealing to bigotry and promoting religious divisions. We hope to see such blatant prejudice repudiated by GOP officials in Tennessee," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.
Early voting is underway and continues through May 1, and the Republican primary is scheduled for May 6.
The primary winner will face two independent candidates in the general election Aug. 7.
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