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Posted on April 14, 2020

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.

For a list of the other members of the Turkish American community running for public office and past and current Turkish American officeholders, please visit  tenthousandturks.org.

Updated on April 19, 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.

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.

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, 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 is now on June 20.
  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, 2020.)

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

 

A.Acikalin 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 June 20 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

 

T.Selen 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

   

 

J.A.PaksoyHon. Ali Paksoy


Judge Ali Paksoy serves as a district court judge for the Judicial District 27-B of North Carolina. In June 2005, Judge Paksoy was appointed to fill the unexpired term of a retiring judge. He has been re-elected three times to consecutive four-year terms, most recently in 2014. Prior to becoming a judge, he maintained a general law practice with trial experience in all levels of court for twenty-eight years. Judge Paksoy is a native of Cleveland County, North Carolina and received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his J.D. from the University of Alabama School of Law.

 

 

T.SelenTayfun Selen


Tayfun Selen of Chatham, New Jersey, a Republican, was elected on February 1, 2020 as a Morris County Freeholder (County Commissioner) to fill a vacant seat on the Morris County seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders (County Commissioners).

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 is an architect, accountant, and businessman who serves on the Advisory Board for Montclair State University’s School of Business. He previously held a seat on his local Board of Adjustment. Selen holds a BS in Architecture from Istanbul Technical University and an MBA from Montclair State University in New Jersey.

 Updated on June 26, 2020

B.Bartlett

Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett is seeking reelection to the Berkeley City Council District III (California). He was first elected to the city council in 2016 and was supported by the Turkish Coalition California PAC. He is married to Turkish American Yelda Mesbah Bartlett, a two-time Super Lawyer and a committed women’s advocate. They have one daughter.

Bartlett, the son of community activists, is a fifth generation Berkeley native and an environmental lawyer. As a Berkeley City Council member, Bartlett has promoted cooperation between industry and government for 21stcentury economic development and the protection of the environment. He has also achieved numerous legislative advancements and policy initiatives.

Prior to serving on the city council, Bartlett has served on the following commissions: Planning, Transportation, Police Review, and the Zero Waste. He was also a member of the Loan Administration Board.

Ben Bartlett: www.benbartlett.vote

 

L.Ersoylu20

Leah Ersoylu

Leah Ersoylu, the spouse of Turkish American Sarp Ersoylu, is running for the nonpartisan position of trustee of the Newport Mesa United School District in Orange County, California. The election is November 3.

Ersoylu resides in Costa Mesa, CA, with her husband and their daughter. She is president of Ersoylu Consulting that provides evaluation, technical support, and research services and has authored academic publications on philanthropy, community engagement, policy, and metrics. She has taught university courses on public policy, government, and nonprofit management.

She holds a B.S. in Resource Economics from the University of New Hampshire and a Ph.D. in Political Science, with a focus on public policy, from the University of California, Irvine. Ersoylu serves on the Costa Mesa Park & Recreation Commission. She has previously served on the town's Public Services & Housing and Bikeability & Walkability Committees in addition to being a board director of St. Joseph Health Community Partnership Fund.

Ersoylu has been an active member of the Turkish American community.

Leah Ersoylu: www.leah4newportmesa.com

Updated on June 18, 2020

J.AlpayJohn Alpay


John Alpay, a resident of San Clemente, served as Area 3 Trustee for the Capistrano Unified School District, the ninth largest school district in California from November 2010 until 2016. He previously served as a Parks & Recreation Commissioner for San Clemente, and on the Budget & Finance Committee for Talega, his 3200 unit homeowners association. He remains as a director for the Spanish Village Foundation, a local nonprofit. John is also involved with the San Clemente Sunrise Rotary and the Hawaiian Surf Club of San Onofre. He and his wife Rochelle have three children together.

 

K.BozkurtKemal Bozkurt


Kemal Bozkurt serves as the Acting Director of the Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, MA.  He is currently running to serve on the Lawrence School Committee, a position he previously held in 2015. Bozkurt has lived in Lawrence, MA for the past 17 years. He is a loving husband and father to three children.

 

E.GunayEsin Busche


Esin Busche previously served as Naperville Township Trustee, a member of the Fair Housing Advisory Commission, and a Republican Precinct committeewoman in Naperville, IL.  She has also served as membership chairman for the Naperville Republican Women for three terms and was the Naperville campaign coordinator for the presidential and governor/lieutenant governor races in 2004 and 2006. Esin has a M.A. in Chemistry works for the Dow Chemical Company. She currently lives on the south side of Naperville Township with her husband and son.

 

E.GunayHacibey Catalbasoglu


Hacibey ‘Haci’ Catalbasoglu was elected as an Independent in the November 7, 2017 general election to the Board of Alders for Ward 1 in New Haven, Connecticut. Haci is 19 years old and a junior at Yale University. He is the youngest Turkish American to ever run and be elected to public office. He is also one of the youngest Alders to ever serve on the Board of Alders in New Haven. In 2017, he was nominated to serve on the city’s Commission on Homelessness after many years of volunteering and advocacy for the New Haven Livable City Initiative through New Haven’s Youth@Work program. He was recommended for confirmation to the Commission by a unanimous vote of the Board of Alders’ Aldermanic Affairs Committee on April 24, 2017. As a member of the Commission, Haci is tasked with advising New Haven Mayor Toni Harp on how to actively combat the homelessness epidemic in New Haven. In the summer of 2016, he had the opportunity to intern for U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT).

 

E.GunayHon. Jay Karahan


Judge Jay (Ceyhun) Karahan was elected to judicial office in November 2002 and was sworn in as Judge of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 8 on January 1, 2003. He was re-elected to that office 3 more times and served until December 31, 2018, when he retired from active judicial service. Judge Karahan is a native of Tampa, Florida. Judge Karahan moved to Texas in 1979 to study law at South Texas College of Law. In 1987, the U.S. Attorney General appointed him an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas. As a federal prosecutor he served in the Major Offender Division, Bank Fraud Task Force, and as a district coordinator for child exploitation investigations and prosecutions. As both a state and federal prosecutor Judge Karahan tried to jury verdict over 100 serious felony cases. He is licensed to practice before the Texas Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Since 1988 Judge Karahan has been certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization as a Criminal Law Specialist.

 

 

J.A.PaksoyHon. Ali Paksoy


Judge Ali Paksoy serves as a district court judge for the 27B Judicial District of North Carolina, which presides over Cleveland and Lincoln countries. Judge Paksoy received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his J.D. from the University of Alabama.

 

A.Sawa200Aycha Sawa


Aycha (Sirvanci) Sawa was elected as City Comptroller, a nonpartisan position, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on April 7, 2020. She is the 12th Turkish American elected to public office, the first Turkish American to become a Chief Financial Officer for a major American city, and the second woman elected as a city official in Milwaukee. Sawa is a first-generation Turkish American born in Milwaukee. As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Internal Auditor, she has served as Deputy Comptroller in Milwaukee for three years before becoming Comptroller. 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.

 

T.SelenTayfun Selen


Tayfun Selen of Chatham, New Jersey, a Republican, was elected on February 1, 2020 as a Morris County Freeholder (County Commissioner) to fill a vacant seat on the Morris County seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders (County Commissioners). 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 is an architect, accountant, and businessman who serves on the Advisory Board for Montclair State University’s School of Business. He previously held a seat on his local Board of Adjustment. Selen holds a BS in Architecture from Istanbul Technical University and an MBA from Montclair State University in New Jersey.

 

E.GunayDerya Taskin


Derya Taskin became the twelfth Turkish American elected to public office. On Jue 25, 2019, Taskin was elected to the County Committee of Passaic County as a Democrat in New Jersey. Previously, she was appointed Deputy City Mayor of Paterson, and served for three years as a liaison between city hall and the Turkish American community. Paterson as the largest concentration of Turkish Americans in the United States. Taskin is the President of Derya Staffing and Consulting, and is also the President of the Paterson Turkish American Association.

 

 

M.TunadorMALIK TUNADOR


Malik Tunador ran and won a seat on the Council of the Thornburg Borough of Allegheny County, PA in the early 1990s. Tunador has been living in Thornburg Borough since 1976 and served one term on the Borough Council. 

 

E.UralDR. ERDEM URAL


Dr. Erdem Ural was elected in to the Stoughton School Committee in Stoughton, Massachusetts in 2008. He served in that position from 2008 to 2011. In 2012, Ural was re-elected to the School Committee, serving until 2015. Dr. Ural holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan. He has resided in Stoughton for over 30 years and is married with 2 children. 

 

M.YarSEL YACKLEY


Sel E. Yackley of Chicago, IL was elected to the Illinois Valley Community College Board of Directors from 1987-1997, in which she received the highest votes in a seven-county election. Previously she was elected to the Illinois Valley Community College Board of Directors in Ottawa, IL from 1976-1987. Sel is a published author, business owner, and skilled fundraiser. She remains active in her community as a volunteer for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and is an active member of various societies and associations. Currently, Sel runs her own public relations agency and travel agency.

 

M.YarMEHMET "MATT" YAR


Mehmet "Matt" Yar was elected to the Bloomfield County Education Board in New Jersey in 1998 and served until 2001. He chose not to run for a second term. When another board member resigned in 2002, Yar was appointed by the local election committee to fill the vacated seat.  His second period of service on the board lasted until 2004.

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