Arab American Hassan Nijem named by Maria Pappas as Deputy Treasurer community liaison
Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas presents her new informational brochure in Arabic with community leaders on Sunday morning May 16 at Nikos Banquets. In expanding her ethnic and heritage reach out to the community, Pappas also named Nijem to serve as an Arab American liaison to her office.
Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas named Palestinian American Businessman and community leader Hassan Nijem as an Honorary Deputy Treasurer to work as a liaison with the county’s growing and influential Arab American and Muslim community. With Nijem, Pappas will host an unveiling on Sunday, May 16, at Nikos Banquets, 7600 S. Harlem., Bridgeview Illinois at 10 AM of a new Arabic language brochure to promote benefits for the county’s taxpayers.
Pappas has made all of the county’s ethnic and religious groups a priority since taking office ensuring that every taxpayer regardless of their ethnic background, religion or heritage will have equal access to services offered by her office. Nijem, who is the President of the Arab American Chamber of Commerce serving the Chicagoland region, will assist Pappas in ensuring that the Arab American community will be included.
Pappas, accompanied by Hassan Nijem, Founder/President of the Arab American Chamber of Commerce, will unveil her office’s new brochure in Arabic available at cookcountytreasurer.com.
Other prominent Arab-American community leaders joining Pappas’ event are:
- Samir Khalil, Founder/Chairman Arab American Democratic Club
- Tasneem Abuzir, Palos Township Trustee
- Mazen Barakat, Founder Hyatt Magazine
- Phil Abed, Palos Township Alderman
- Rush Darwish, President Arab American Professionals
“The 27 new multi-lingual informational brochures assist homeowners to better understand the complex property tax system,” Pappas said.
Pappas named President Nijem as her Honorary Cook County Deputy Treasurer to act as a liaison between her office and the Arab-American community.
“It is a true honor to support Treasurer Pappas on her mission to inform Arab-Americans,” Nijem said.
Tasneem Abuzir is the first ever Arab American elected to the Palos Township Board of Trustees. Mazen Barakat is the only print newspaper publisher serving the Chicagoland region. Samir Khalil has been a stalwart leader of the Arab American Democratic community hosting forums which have allowed all Democratic officials and candidates to address the community several times each year.
Former Chicago City Hall reporter and veteran award winning journalist Ray Hanania praised Pappas calling her one of the most responsive and representative public servants to ever hold office in Cook County.
“Since serving as a Cook County Commissioner and later winning the office of Cook County Treasurer with the largest vote of any county official, Pappas is a true public servant who has been dedicated to ensuring that every voice is included in the operation of her offices,” said Hanania, President and CEO of Urban Strategies Group and the US Correspondent for the Arab News Newspaper.
“The Arabic language brochure is but one of many that provides information in the languages of all of the people of Cook County. This is truly an unprecedented move on the part of any Cook County and Illinois official.”
Nijem’s family is originally from the village Sarafund el Amr near the city of Jaffa, but he was born and raised in Bethlehem. He immigrated to America in 1986 to embrace the American dream. Nijem has operated many businesses including in 1986 Layala Inc., which sells general merchandise, electronic and other merchandise.
For more information on Pappas’ public service visit her website at www.cookcountytreasurer.com.
Bio of Maria Pappas
Maria Pappas is Treasurer of Cook County, Illinois, a post she has held since 1998. She was elected to a sixth four-year term in November of 2018.
Pappas hit the ground running when she became Treasurer, moving with amazing velocity to remake an antiquated office. She is still running and, if anything, is moving yet faster.
Cook County is one of the world’s largest economies, with 5.2 million people and the nation’s third-largest city, Chicago. The Treasurer’s Office handles $18 billion a year, almost $13 billion in property taxes on some 1.8 million parcels of property. The property tax revenues then must be distributed to 2,200 local government agencies such as municipalities, school districts, police and fire districts, library district and others that tax properties. It has to be done right and it has to be done fast.
Pappas didn’t like what she saw when she walked into her office for the first time. For one thing, piles of cardboard trays were on the floor. A mess? Yes, but of the worst kind, a financial mess that had no reasonable explanation. There were more than $30 million in payment checks on the trays, undeposited and gathering no interest for the County. This was going to be a daunting task for the new Treasurer.
Was Pappas prepared to straighten things out? She was.
A lawyer with a degree in counseling psychology, this granddaughter of Cretan immigrants was born on June 7, 1949. She was raised in Warwood, West Virginia, a town of 2,000 near the coal-mining city of Wheeling. As a child, she studied the Greek language and all kinds of music. She played the electronic pipe organ, directed the choir and traveled around the country with the all-state band as bass clarinetist. As a drum majorette, she won nine gold medals in baton-twirling competitions.
Education is her life-long passion. Pappas earned a degree in Sociology from West Liberty State College (now University), in West Liberty, West Virginia, in 1970; a degree in Guidance and Counseling at West Virginia University in Morgantown in 1972; a doctorate in Counseling and Psychology at Loyola University of Chicago in 1976; and a law degree at Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1982.
Having come to Chicago, Pappas’ public career grew out of her studies at what is now Adler University and a grant from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to work in Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens public housing project. At Altgeld Gardens, she managed the Day One Drug Abuse Center, keeping young people free of drugs. Testifying in related court cases involving young people led her to visit prisons and jails, which led her to go to law school, which led her to consider public service. In 1990, she ran for Cook County Commissioner, one of 17 such positions on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which oversees health care, law enforcement and other matters.
Pappas won and for eight years represented constituents from Chicago’s North Side and North Shore suburbs. As a county commissioner, she made every meeting interesting and built a reputation as a budget guru, a fiscal hawk who supported tax cuts, open government and efficiencies in an inefficient government – which she let people know about.
She successfully fought for human rights ordinances and introduced measures to install reform in areas such as truth-in-lending budgeting, ending no-bid legal and bond-issue contracts, and status reports by outside consultants. She co-authored an extensive study on teenage pregnancy, outlining a program to combat a key societal issue. All along, she heard that she should hold her own office.
In 1998, she ran for Cook County Treasurer and won.
When Pappas was a commissioner, the Treasurer’s Office was the poster child for governmental inefficiency. The office had four working computers, six typewriters and dozens of letter-openers – payment envelopes were slit open by hand and sums written in ledger books. That may explain the $30 million in checks sitting on the floor.
Pappas immediately obtained a bank lockbox to deposit not only those checks but all future checks on the day they were received. In her first year, interest on deposits went from $4.8 million to almost $19 million. Pappas says the Treasurer’s Office she walked into in 1998 reminded her of some Third World countries she has seen.
With a vision of making her office paperless, Pappas kept changing things, innovating, turning the office into a networked system of computers that integrated collections, deposits, earnings, distributions, refunds and other data previously logged manually. An integrated cashiering and general-ledger system resulted in speedier access to payment and other data for taxpayers and local government agencies.
She established a website, cookcountytreasurer.com, that averages 450,000 visits a month so taxpayers can live the paperless life, checking their payments, searching for refunds, seeing their exemptions, and more. Her Debt Disclosure Ordinance of 2009 provides taxpayers an up-close view of the debts, operational and pension-related, of the governments that tax them – information that goes also on tax bills mailed to taxpayers. Pappas is proud of this extraordinary exercise in data transparency, saying taxpayers now can monitor their governments and the taxes they levy.
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