Nalan Koçak – ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Tayfun Selen is the first Turkish-origin mayor elected in the U.S., set to run a township in the state of New Jersey after being sworn in on Jan. 4. “My election is a slap in the faces of anti-immigrant, far-rightist Americans,” the Republican has told Hürriyet Daily News.
Selen spoke of his 22-year-long journey from being an immigrant to running the corridors of political halls. “I graduated from Istanbul Technical University’s Department of Architecture then immigrated to the United States in 1996. I had no money, did not speak proper English. I came here like Don Quixote. I worked in a gas station for nearly eight months. Then I found a humble job in an architecture office but progressed quickly in my career,” he said on Jan. 9.
He recalled his first step in politics of being at a conference of a senator in the university he was working for. “I got a job at Montclair State University in New Jersey. One day, in the university I encountered a huge crowd in one of the conference venues. They were listening to a congressman from the Democrats. At that moment I developed an interest for politics,” he said.
His first step into politics came when Selen applied and got appointed for the zoning commission of Chatham Township in 2003. His career in politics accelerated when he became a U.S. citizen as he joined the Republican Party’s township administration in 2013.
In 2015 he joined the municipal council, which eventually led to his election. He got support from three of the five members of the council. In Chatham, by law, the public elects the council and then the council determines the mayor.
‘Election of a Turk an important message’
He said the campaign period was fierce and a tough one.
“It was as though the candidates were racing for the White House, it was that fierce. Chatham is very conservative town and may enjoy more diversity. As a Turkish-American, my election was a slap in the faces of anti-immigrant, far-rightist Americans. But I convinced them with my efforts and pledges,” Selen said.
Despite being a member of the Republican Party, Selen thinks the policies of President Donald Trump have polarized the American society. “On the one side we have white, male, rich Americans. On the other side, we have the white, but poor and angry Americans. They claim the migrants got everything from our hands. We had similar issues in our town. But I told the voters that the election of a Turk would give a small but important message especially within the Republican Party. When I joined the Republicans, Trump wasn’t president. I became entangled in the party for this once. What can I do? I could not figure out Trump,” he said.