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Home Political Spotlight Turkish Americans Running for Political Office
Turkish Americans Running for Political Office

Updated on March 17, 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.

Although there were two Turkish American candidates at the beginning of the year running as Democrats for the U.S. House of Representatives in California and New Jersey, only one is still in the race. Cenk Uygur lost the California primary in March whereas Alp Basaran’s primary in New Jersey will be this June.

Ceylan Rowe, another Democrat, is running for the state legislature in Massachusetts, whereas Aylin Acikalin is a Democratic candidate for Judge of the First City Court in New Orleans, Louisiana. Aycha Sawa is a candidate for the nonpartisan position of City Controller in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Tayfun Selen of New Jersey, a Republican, who was elected in February as a Morris County Freeholder (County Commissioner) to fill an open seat on the County Board will be up for re-election in November.

Basaran and Rowe are vying to be the first Turkish Americans elected to federal and state offices. There have been only 11 Turkish Americans ever elected to public office, and only on the local level. Please see below for the list of candidates.


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:


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 will take place June 2, 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:


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:


Aycha Sawa - WI

Aycha (Sirvanci) Sawa, a candidate for the nonpartisan position of Comptroller in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, received the second highest number of votes in the February 18 primary race of three contenders, thereby qualifying her for the general election on April 7. The general election will only include the two-top vote-getters in the primary.

As a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a Certified Internal Auditor, she has served as Deputy Comptroller for three years.

Sawa is a first-generation Turkish American born in the City of Milwaukee. 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 in 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 in the Turkish American Association in Milwaukee. She is married to Drew Sawa, and they have one daughter.

Aycha Sawa:


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.

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:


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: