Turkish Americans Running for Political Office

Updated on April 27, 2020

Six Turkish Americans have declared their candidacy for federal, state, and local office in 2020, the highest number ever of Turkish Americans running for public office in one year. Already, one candidate, Aycha Sawa, has been elected as the Chief Financial Officer (Comptroller) for a major American city, Milwaukee, on April 7. Here is a summary of the races for the six candidates.

For federal office, two Turkish Americans entered races for the U.S. Congress as Democrats.

  1. Alp Basaran in New Jersey’s 9th. His primary is on July 7, 2020.
  2. Cenk Uygur in California’s 25th congressional district. He lost in a special election on March 3, 2020.

For state office, there is only one Turkish American candidate.

  1. Ceylan Rowe, running as a Democrat for the state legislature in Massachusetts. Her primary is on September 1, 2020.

For county and municipal offices, three Turkish Americans have filed as candidates.

  1. Aycha 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.
  2. Aylin Acikalin, a Democrat, Judge of the First City Court in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her election originally on April 4, 2020, has been postponed twice.  The new date is now July 11.
  3. Tayfun Selen (Republican), elected in February 2020 to fill a vacancy as a Freeholder (County Commissioner) on the Morris County Board in New Jersey but will be up for re-election on November 3. (He has no opposition in the Republican primary on July 7.)

Basaran and Rowe are vying to be the first Turkish Americans elected to federal and state offices, respectively. Acikalin, if elected, would be the first Turkish American woman judge.

With Sawa elected as Milwaukee’s City Comptroller, the number of Turkish Americans elected to a public office is now 12. All 12 of these elected officials have or are serving at the local level. Please see below for the list of Turkish American candidates for 2020.


Aylin Acikalin – LA


Aylin Acikalin is running as a Democrat for Judge of New Orleans (Louisiana) First City Court in a special election. If elected, she would be the third Turkish American judge in the country. The special election initially scheduled for April 4, 2020, has been postponed to July 11 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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

 


Alp Basaran – NJ


Alp Basaran is running for Congress as a Democratic candidate in New Jersey’s 9th congressional district. The 9th district has the largest concentration of Turkish Americans in the United States, and the second-largest population of Muslim Americans. The New Jersey Democratic primary, initially scheduled for June 2, is now on July 7, 2020.

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


Ceylan Rowe – MA


Ceylan Rowe is running for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the 2020 elections as a Democrat in the 12th Worcester District. The Massachusetts Democratic primary is 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) 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 re-election 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/general-fund-c6228129674


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