Updated on October 29, 2020
2020 has seen the highest number of Turkish Americans, a total of ten, ever running for elected office in one year. Already, one candidate, Aycha Sirvanci Sawa, has been elected as the Chief Financial Officer (Comptroller) for a major American city, Milwaukee, on April 7. With Sawa’s election, the number of Turkish Americans elected to public office is now 12.
Here is a summary of the races for the nine Turkish American candidates running in 2020.
Federal Office: Two Turkish Americans.
– Alp Basaran (D), New Jersey’s 9th congressional district. Lost the primary on July 7, 2020.
– Cenk Uygur (D), California’s 25th congressional district. Lost the special election on March 3, 2020.
State Office: Two Turkish Americans.
– Ajlan Kurdoglu (D), ran unopposed in the Democratic primary on August 4, 2020, for the Arizona State Senate in Legislative District 17. The general election is on November 3, 2020.
– Ceylan Rowe (D), ran for the state legislature in Massachusetts. Lost the primary on September 1, 2020.
County and Municipal Offices: Five Turkish Americans.
– Aylin Acikalin (D), Judge of the First City Court in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lost the special election on July 11, 2020.
– John Alpay, San Juan Capistrano City Council (a nonpartisan position). The city election is on November 3, 2020.
– Onur Arugaslan, Candidate for the nonpartisan position of Trustee of the Mattawan Consolidated Schools Board of Education in Michigan. The school board election is on November 3, 2020.
– Sezin Palmer, Howard County (Maryland) Public Schools Board of Education District 4 (a nonpartisan position). The school board election is on November 3, 2020.
– Aycha Sirvanci Sawa, City Comptroller in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (a nonpartisan position). After coming in second in the primary on February 18, 2020, Sawa won the general election on April 7, with over 50% of the vote in a tightly contested race.
– Tayfun Selen (R), elected in February to fill a vacancy as a Freeholder (County Commissioner) on the Morris County Board in New Jersey but will be up for reelection on November 3, 2020.
For more information on each candidate, please see below.
Aylin Acikalin | LA
Aylin Acikalin ran as a Democrat for Judge of New Orleans First City Court but lost in the special election on July 11, 2020.
Acikalin is a lawyer in New Orleans, and her law practice has focused on plaintiff’s class action litigation, legislative and government policy. Further, Acikalin has proposed legislation to expand the definition of domestic abuse to include emotional and financial abuse as well as to establish a pilot program in New Orleans to provide tax-free college savings for kindergarteners who meet federal poverty guidelines.
Acikalin is also an experienced community mediator trained by Community Mediation Services and the New York Peace Institute. She earned her BA (cum laude) from the George Washington University Elliott School and her Juris Doctorate from Tulane Law School New Orleans. Acikalin has two children attending public school in New Orleans.
Aylin Acikalin: www.electaylin.com
Onur Arugaslan | MI
Dr. Onur Arugaslan is running for the nonpartisan position of Trustee of the Mattawan Consolidated Schools Board of Education in Michigan. He is currently serving on the Board of Education as an appointed Trustee since March 2019 to fill a vacancy. The election is on November 3, 2020.
Arugaslan is a Founding Co-Director of the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness, the Director of the Personal Financial Planning Program, and a Professor of Finance at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has published 20 articles in various academic journals including the Journal of Finance and the Journal of Corporate Finance in addition to a book chapter on Turkish Civilization.
He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey and a Ph.D. in Finance from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has three daughters.
Onur Arugaslan: www.facebook.com/onur4mattawanschools
John Alpay | CA
John Alpay, a resident of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California, is the latest Turkish American who declared his candidacy for public office. On July 3, Alpay announced that he is running for the San Juan Capistrano City Council to represent the city’s 5th district. He is the Chief Administrative Officer for a local video gaming business and an Associate Professor of Business at Saddleback College.
Alpay previously served two elected terms as Trustee for the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) and has been appointed twice by the San Juan Capistrano City Council to serve as a member of the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee. Additionally, he is serving his second consecutive term as Chairman of the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce. For his public service achievements, Alpay was recognized as Outstanding General Counsel of the Year by the Orange County Business Journal and has received awards from Orange County Business Council and the Orange County Taxpayers Association.
He attended the University of California where he received a BA and a doctorate at UCLA. Alpay has also pursued postdoctoral work at the University of Southern California. He and his wife Rochelle have three children.
John Alpay: www.JohnAlpay.com
Alp Basaran | NJ
Alp Basaran was a candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th congressional district but lost in the Democratic Primary on July 7, 2020. The 9th district has the largest concentration of Turkish Americans in the United States, and the second-largest population of Muslim Americans.
Basaran is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and the UCLA School of Law, leading to a career as a corporate lawyer in New York. He also represented LGBTQ and HIV+ refugees on a pro bono basis. Basaran immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four. He is married with two small children.
Alp Basaran: www.alpbasaran.com
Ajlan (AJ) Kurdoglu | AZ
Ajlan Kurdoglu, known as AJ, is running for Arizona’s State Senate in Legislative District 17. He was unopposed in the Democratic primary on August 4, 2020, and will face the Republican incumbent on November 3. If he wins in the general election, he would be the first Turkish American elected to a state office.
Kurdoglu is naturalized citizen from Turkey who received a MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix. He is a small business owner.
Ajlan Kurdoglu: www.voteforaj.com
Sezin Palmer | MD
Sezin Palmer is running for a nonpartisan seat on the Howard County (Maryland) Public Schools Board of Education District 4. As a child of Turkish immigrants, she was born and raised in Ellicott City, Maryland. Palmer has worked for the federal government and pursued a career dedicated to public service; she is currently an executive, leading a large R&D organization focused on health technology. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. As a community activist, Palmer has advocated for bringing transparency and accountability to the public school system, with parents having a voice in their children’s education. She and her husband have two sons.
Sezin Palmer: www.sezin4boe.org
Ceylan Rowe | MA
Ceylan Rowe ran as a Democrat for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the 12th Worcester District but lost in the Democratic primary on September 1, 2020.
Rowe resides in Northborough. She is the founder and CEO of Trendy Napkin and is one of the commissioners in Massachusetts’s MetroWest Commission on the Status of Women (MWCSW). Rowe has worked at the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants, where she was the Special Assistant to the Executive Director. She is a graduate of Northeastern University and is currently working on her MBA at Babson College. She is married to Don Rowe, and they have two children.
Ceylan Rowe: www.roweforrep.com
Aycha Sawa | WI
Turkish American Aycha (Sirvanci) Sawa won the runoff election for City Comptroller in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with over 50% of the vote in a tightly contested race. As the new Chief Financial Officer for a major American city, she becomes the 12th Turkish American to be elected to public office. The election was held on April 7, but the election results were not announced until April 13 because of the extension of absentee voting. The City Comptroller in Milwaukee is a nonpartisan position.
Sawa is a first-generation Turkish American born in the City of Milwaukee. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Internal Auditor, she has served as Deputy Comptroller in Milwaukee for three years. She has an undergraduate degree in Accounting and Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, Sawa worked as an auditor in the state of Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation and a CPA firm before joining Milwaukee’s Comptroller Office. At the University of Wisconsin, she was an officer in the Madison Association of Turkish Students and started a Turkish film festival in Madison. She also attended a semester at Bosphorus University as an exchange student. Sawa has been an active member of the Turkish American Association in Milwaukee. She is married to Drew Sawa, and they have one daughter.
Aycha Sawa: www.AychaSawaCPA.com
Tayfun Selen | NJ
Tayfun Selen, a Republican who was elected as a Morris County Freeholder (County Commissioner) in New Jersey on February 1, 2020, to fill a vacant seat on the Morris County seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders (County Commissioners) will be up for reelection on November 3, 2020. (He has no opposition in the Republican primary on July 7, 2020.)
Selen is Senior Vice President of Administration for Lincoln Educational Services. Prior to his role at Lincoln, he served as Global Director of Project Management for CB Richard Ellis. He had served as the Chatham Township (Morris County) Mayor as well as on the Chatham Borough Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Chatham Municipal Committee. He is a member of the Morris County Republican Committee and Chairman of the Chatham Township Republican Committee. Selen graduated from Istanbul Technical University with a BS in architecture and received his MBA from Montclair State University. He is married with one daughter.
Tayfun Selen: secure.anedot.com/selen/morriscountycommissioner
Cenk Uygur | CA
Cenk Uygur, a Democrat, was one of the dozen candidates competing to fill the open seat in California’s 25th congressional district after Katie Hill’s resignation from Congress in November 2019. A special election was on March 3, 2020. Uygur did not advance to the run-off.
Uygur is the founder and host of the talk show The Young Turks and co-founder of the Justice Democrats. The Young Turks is considered one of the most watched online news shows in the world. He has also appeared as a political commentator on numerous news programs. Prior to his career in media, Uygur practiced law in New York City and Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia Law School. Uygur immigrated to the U.S. with his family at the age of eight. He is married to Wendy Lang, and they have two children.
Cenk Uygur: www.cenk2020.com