WASHINGTON — Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., ran into hot water recently with the Indian-American community for remarks made by members of his staff that attacked Hillary Clinton's ties with India.
Trouble surfaced last month when Obama's camp circulated a memorandum that has been interpreted as a snide attack on Clinton's closeness with the Indian community. The memorandum titled, "Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)'s Personal, Financial and Political Ties to India" surfaced after congressional financial disclosure forms of Senator Clinton, D-N.Y., were made public. The memorandum attacked the Clintons' ties to India and the financial gain they reaped due to their alliances. The document, which was obtained by members of the Clinton camp, circulated to media members and bloggers. The document makes it sound offensive to have financial ties with Indian Americans and questions the political loyalty of the community.
According to popular online portal, rediff.com, the document had references to underline former President Bill Clinton's acceptance of $300,000 for paid speeches from Cisco Systems Inc., a company that, the document notes, has "shifted hundreds of jobs from America to India."
It further stated that Hillary Clinton accepted almost $60,000 in contributions from employees of Cisco Systems, "which laid off American workers to hire Indian techies."
The document pointed out that Clinton "invested tens of thousands" in an Indian bill-payment company, a reference to the former president's disclosure form that lists between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of stock in Easy Bill Ltd.
The document created a furor in the Indian-American community.
The Asian American Hotel Owners Association asked Senator Obama to address the comments and also wanted to ensure such rhetoric will not re-enter the dialogue of the presidential campaign. The organization issued a press statement concerning the incident.
"I was surprised when I read the comments," said AAHOA president Fred Schwartz. "Senator Obama is a very talented individual and he is doing a good job of connecting with all different people. Suddenly, you see language coming out singling out one particular group, which was uncharacteristic of his stature.
"Our chairman, Danny Patel, was very concerned and disappointed, too. Danny was disappointed to see a presidential candidate's camp with such a broad base to make such a remark," he added.
Schwartz said that, as an association consisting of largely South Asian hotel owners, AAHOA felt the need to issue a statement and become involved by contacting Senator Obama.
"With 8,300 members owning over 22,000 hotel properties," he said. "I think it's important that we issue a statement. The Indian American community is very hard working and value-driven group of people. We don't like to see these types of statements."
Senator Obama publicly apologized for the remarks, calling the memorandum a "mistake."
"It was a dumb mistake on our campaign's part and I made it clear to my staff in no uncertain terms that it was a mistake," Obama was quoted in The Daily Telegraph. He also described the memo as "unnecessarily caustic."
"It is not reflective of the long-standing relationship I have had with the Indian-American community," he said.
In a separate interview with rediff.com, he said the memo didn't reflect his views or attitudes regarding the Indian-American community.
"I was furious when I heard about it," he was quoted in rediff.com. "We are taking corrective action to make sure that people understand how this could be potentially hurtful."
Once the memorandum made news, the United States India Political Action Communittee's chairman Sanjay Puri wrote a letter to Senator Obama asking for his comments. "We were very angry and upset," Puri said. "Once the document appeared, we worked hard to mobilize the Indian-American community and I wrote a letter to Senator Obama, expressing our concerns. In a very subtle way, the document questions the dual loyalty of Indian-Americans.
"The Senator called back," he said. "He has taken actions in his campaign and has curtailed the responsibilities of the group involved in making out the memorandum."