Brian K. Hill, left, gestures during a debate for the seat being vacated by U.S Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in Norwich, Conn., Thursday, April 19, 2012. From left are Peter Lumaj, Hill, Linda McMahon and Christopher Shays. Photo: AP
By Ruben Avxhiu
(Published by Illyria newspaper – June 4, 2012)
Peter (Pjerin) Lumaj ran for US Senate in Connecticut for the seat left vacant by Joseph Lieberman, a well-known name to many Albanian-Americans.
One of the main leitmotifs of Illyria newspaper throughout its 21 years in business has been to discover and promote Albanian-American success stories and it is one of our most important contributions to the history of the Albanian nation.
In this context, nothing would make us happier than to have finally an Albanian in some high level position in Washington DC. After many wonderful achievements in business, science, sports and a variety of professions, we’d love to see our compatriots make it in the field of politics as well.
Unfortunately, it did not seem that Peter Lumaj was on the way to break that glass ceiling. He was running only on paper as he was not even close to compete with the two main contenders within the Republican Party in Connecticut.
Ours is a community with limited resources and we in Illyria were alarmed when Mr. Lumaj claimed to have raised more than $100,000 from Albanian-Americans who were understandably enthusiastic about the idea of the “first Albanian-American Senator”, but who knew little about his electability. Most of them were in Michigan and New York with little understanding of Connecticut political scene.
Not surprisingly many Connecticut Albanians seemed to oscillate between Chris Murphy on the Democratic side and Chris Shays on the Republican one. Murphy came first in his party convention and has a good chance of replacing Lieberman in the US Senate, while Shays managed only to get a place in the ballot with the party machine openly siding with his main competitor, Linda McMahon. Lumaj, who was endorsed by only 22 delegates out of 1245, claimed that the vote was a “sham”, but to those who have followed the race it was clear long before the elections that he did not really stand a chance.
Albanian-Americans are both entrepreneurs and active in US politics, supporting particularly candidates with strong credentials in foreign affairs and who understand the situation in the Southeastern Europe. Albanians are staunch believers in American values as well. Not surprisingly most of the candidates they support are the best ones for America as well. However, despite the Albanian generosity, our funds are limited and therefore, we must learn how to use them in intelligent ways. As a newspaper we think that it is our obligation to educate and inform our readers about politicians, their views, positions and electability. In our view, Mr. Lumaj was not truly in the race and he had no chance in front of McMahon and Shays. Understandably, Mr. Lumaj did not like our analysis, but any political analyst in Connecticut, worth his mantle, would have reached the same conclusions.
Mr. Lumaj was presenting himself from strict ideological conservative positions. Connecticut, in state level, votes either Democrats or moderate Republicans. Mr. Lumaj was offering a vision more appropriate for Kentucky than Connecticut. It was a ready-to-wear political identity acquired and modeled after the nation-wide Tea Parties of 2010, instead of a reflection of the experiences, expectations and exclusivities of the people of Connecticut.
Of course, we’d rather see a genuine candidate who believes in his positions rather than a flip-flopper who adapts to polls. Mr. Lumaj was right to stand by his views but at the same time there was very little chance that the people of Connecticut would look at him as an appropriate representative for them in DC. In a way, he was running in the wrong state.
I also pointed in my analysis that when you run as a newcomer in this level of politics, you need one of the following three advantages (if not a combination of two of them): financial means, local party support or a great name from a distinctive success in some other field of life. In Connecticut, Ned Lamont comes to mind, when he challenged a veteran like Lieberman for the same post, a few years back. Unfortunately, Lumaj lacked all three of them.
He threw $50,000 of his own money and raised a little less than $200K in six months. I pointed out the Gulliver effect. He was not only in the wrong state but he was in the wrong race as well. With that money, he was a dwarf in the US Senate race, but he could have been a giant had he been running for a local position instead. I advised him in my article to adjust his aim. (He seems to have been offended by my advice and decided to aim against Illyria instead.)
He was unknown to most Republican Party local officials and made little way with them in the months of his anemic campaigning. Not long ago, in 2010, another candidate close to the Albanian community, Joseph DioGuardi was also snubbed by the leaders of the Republican Party of New York in the state convention, but his grass root support and the endorsement of small town, local Republican leaders in the end defeated the party machine and he received his nomination in the primary. Mr. Lumaj had received only one endorsement from a local party leader and there was no visible movement in his support. He was aloof and lacked a proper campaign organization. I followed his campaign website, his twitter communications, his schedule and his mentioning in the media for about three months before writing my analysis. His campaign barely existed. Maybe he had never participated in an electoral campaign before, at least in that level and he had clearly failed to hire professionals who have a modicum of idea on how to run a campaign. Or maybe he lacked the sources to hire them. I doubt that he was in just for the attention of the Albanian community or as what I call an “electoral tourist”, who runs just out of curiosity.
Finally, his name was not known to the public of Connecticut. He presents himself as a “civil rights attorney” and I believe he focuses on immigration cases, which is fine, but he had never led any movement or action that could have particularly drawn the attention of the people of Connecticut. His campaign did little to solve this problem. He was rarely in the radar of the local media. While Shays and McMahon were mentioned at least 4-5 times daily by Connecticut media sources, one had to wait for about two weeks for the name of Lumaj to appear somewhere. Most of the time was in the background of news, which focused on the other two candidates. With some rare exceptions, Lumaj was almost never given a chance to introduce himself to the general voter. He did relatively well in the two public debates, but by then he had nothing to lose there and everything to gain so it was an expected success, which would matter little to the race.
In my article, I did not exclude necessarily the possibility of Lumaj being the best candidate. However, I focused first on electability and explained to our readers why without name recognition, money and party machine support, it is impossible to get elected.
Apparently, Mr. Lumaj took my analysis as a personal attack. He called the office, threatened to “expose” us and tried to reach people whom he believed could influence us. However, my article was meant first and foremost to analyze the race. Over the last decade I have written hundreds of similar articles as I have made it my mission to explain to the Albanian community how politics works in the United States and how they can and should get involved. It was natural that I would offer my opinion on Peter Lumaj’s candidacy and not only I do not regret writing about it, but I feel now remorse for not having written sooner and in a more blunt style which could have probably saved Albanian-Americans some of their hard-earned money which were shamelessly wasted in his practically inexistent campaign.
After the publication of the article I was in fact still hoping to be proved wrong. I would have rather had that if it meant having an Albanian-American US Senator. After all, in more than two decades of writing career, it is natural to miss the target at times and we all learn by making mistakes. Greater names in journalism and major sources of media have erred famously in the past: Dewey was declared winner of presidential elections by Chicago Tribune in 1948, CNN and other major televisions wrongly projected Gore as winner in the 2000 presidential elections, to mention a couple of cases. Unfortunately, my analysis was confirmed by the results of the Republican state convention in Connecticut; Mr. Lumaj received less than 2% of the vote.
One main problem that I had with his failed attempt was that he left the community nearly a quarter of a million dollars poorer. This money could have been used in other races where well-known supporters of our cause in Congress were facing tough battles. For example, Jeanne Schmidt, co-chairman of the Albanian Caucus in the US Congress lost her primary battle within the Republican Party in Ohio. A percentage of the money that was wasted for Mr. Lumaj’s campaign could have made the difference there. Similar battles are still waging across the country and our community should find ways to inform and organize themselves better.
I have heard that Mr. Lumaj claims that he opened the way now for other Albanians to try their luck in the high level of the American politics. I believe that the opposite is true. I think that he made it harder for other Albanians to run in similar races. He benefited by the trust of his unsuspecting compatriots by raising funds for an unwinnable battle, thus setting a dangerous precedent. We have seen this happen in other aspects of life as well. False prophets have always preceded the true ones in our Albanian world. This community has been milked before by pseudo-artists and pseudo-activists of various fields, only to make it harder for the real talents when they showed up to ask for help.
I have only respect for much more known and successful leaders of our community like Ken Biberaj who is running for the City Council in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or Mark Gjonaj who is running for Assemblyman in The Bronx. They also could have tried to impress us by running for higher offices. I wish they had been endowed with the funds made available to Mr. Lumaj, but there is still time and hopefully, the community will wise up and throw its support behind the real candidates and its genuine representatives.
Mr. Lumaj seems to be now in a revenge mood, not against the Republicans of Connecticut who were not impressed by his campaign, or his rivals who never saw him as a threat, but against the only voice that tried to sober him up and help him put things in perspective. He did a disservice to this community and to his political future as well, by opting to ignore our advice and listen to the unprofessional people he seem to have surrounded himself during the months of this senseless electoral adventure.
In a recent article to examiner.com, a website he apparently has been using for years to sow the seeds of religious conflict among historically multi-religious Albanians, he throws against Illyria a bunch of misinformation which in his mind will damage our reputation. However, even here, he has done his homework with the same “talent” that he showed when doing research on Connecticut before running for Senator.
Nevertheless, the problem here is not the reputation of Illyria or its staff. We have nothing to prove to the Albanian-Americans. We are not asking for their vote or their money. Those who were not satisfied by our service have left for other means of information. Others have loyally been our readers, advertisers and supporters for more than two decades.
As for the claims in Mr. Lumaj’s article: I have never worked as a doorman (although at times, when I have to write this kind of explanations, I wish I had) or have tried to defraud the Voice of America (go figure!!) or have ever been sponsored by Mr. Sali Berisha the Prime Minister of Albania (another weird assumption of Mr. Lumaj). Illyria is probably the most unbiased nonpartisan newspaper in the entire Albanian world. It certainly does not accept money from governments and political parties. Furthermore, Leke Gojçaj is not and has never been publisher or part-owner of Illyria and this is easily verifiable. He is a respected leader of the community and a good friend of us and has explained this to Mr. Lumaj in person during the latter’s failed attempt to make us apologize for the article about him. (I never heard about apologizing for an analysis! However, we did suggest that Mr. Lumaj write a response with his view on his race and his chances of electability or that he become available for an interview to explain his take to our readers. Nevertheless, it would have hardly changed our opinion about his campaign at that point. My strong suspicion is that since the article was published in Albanian he may have missed the gist of the article has relied on others who described it poorly to him, but I may be wrong.)
To hundreds of thousands of Albanian immigrants who came to the United States throughout the last century no job was too insulting to take. From dishwashing to house cleaning, from heavy construction gigs to working in farms and factories, Albanians have made a name as hardworking individuals. Doorman sounds like a gentleman position to me compared to some other jobs Albanians have been employed. And although Mr. Lumaj may look down on it, I would have been proud to wear any of the uniforms which adorn hundreds of Albanians who are employed as doormen throughout New York and help to make this City a safe place to live. After all, it is people like them who have scrapped even their last penny to support candidates who over the years have understood the plea of the Albanian nation in the Balkans and have helped to steer the US foreign policy towards the principled positions it holds in that part of the globe. It is the hard-earned money of this kind of people that Mr. Lumaj cavalierly wasted with so much lack of understanding, of sensitivity and of responsibility.
A later, closer look, on Mr. Lumaj activity has made us believe that we were lucky after all that he could not make it in the Senate race. He has shown an increasingly disturbing behavior, which has nothing to do with his baseless allegations against Illyria. In 21 years of independent and principled reporting and opinionating, we have faced much heavier rants and accusations. It comes with the territory. However, the problems with Mr. Lumaj are of high concern to the entire Albanian community in US.
From badmouthing the Kosova Liberation Army as an “Islamic terrorist organization” (either by himself or via an assistant under the fake name Josif Mladic using the account firstname.lastname@example.org, now documented by us) to portraying Albanian Muslims as radical extremists, from giving credence to the Serbian ludicrous claim that Ben Laden had been at some point in Kosova to accusing the Albanian government of being tied to the Iranian regime, despite the fact that Albania has been for years to be the most pro-American country in Europe.
It is hard for us to understand Mr. Lumaj’s agenda at this point. Why would someone asking for the vote and the money of Albanian-Americans subscribe to and promote such views on the Albanian nation, which is famous for its religious tolerance and harmony? I assume from his previous post in examiner.com that as a lawyer he represents clients who are asking for political asylum on religious persecution basis and this distorted image of Albania may help win the cases and advance his business. It is of course only an assumption. Albania is a European Union candidate and already a NATO member and is under the microscope of domestic and international human rights organizations, so these allegations seem quite hollow. The Serbs have tried hard in the past to convince Washington that KLA was an Islamic organization, but they failed because the truth prevailed. Do we have to return to this old debate just because some Albanian dusted off old lies for reasons that only he can explain? Furthermore, not only is Prime Minister Sali Berisha a staunch supporter of the United States but he is one of the few if not the only leader in office who has called Ahmadinejad “a neo-Nazi”. These are all published facts and we don’t need to be sponsored by Berisha, as Mr. Lumaj assumes, to point this out. Nor do we need to be paid in order to defend our Albanian nation from baseless allegations. Does Mr. Lumaj need to be paid to make them? One does not even need to be a patriot to defend the truth. A minimal decency is sufficient.
Maybe Mr. Lumaj believes that by rounding a number of accusations against us and by trying to damage our reputation, we would backtrack from exposing the truth about these matters. We shall not. It is our obligation as journalists with a responsibility for the image of our Albanian nation, as people of integrity with respect for the historic truths, and as citizens of this great country called the United States of America.