New Candidate Rifat Sivisoglu

Ali Gunertem.

Ali Günertem – Washington, D.C. -In the last few years, Turks living in the US have increasingly ventured into politics. Osman Bengür ran for the US Congress in the 2006 elections, while Tarkan Öcal tried his luck with the Florida State Senate in 2002.

While those pioneers didn’t make it, it remains essential to keep a positive attitude and field new candidates. I was thrilled when I found out that a Turkish American from DuPage, Illinois was running in the 2008 elections.

I had the opportunity to meet with Rıfat Sivişoğlu when he attended the ATAA general assembly in Washington, DC, in May 2008. These assemblies are often of the kind, where, unless you’re participating in the meeting proper, people meet, shake hands on the run and exchange superficial pleasantries.

I had intended to meet Rıfat and hear about his plans for the future, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Invited by Yurter Özcan, President of the Arı Foundation, I made my way to the hotel where the general assembly was to take place. Once we met, I was able to happily observe the same self-confidence and knowledge in Rıfat as I did in Osman Bengür, my close friend. Rıfat is well aware of the steepness of the hill he’s set out to climb, and in particular, the relative inexperience of Turkish-American society in these matters. He tells me, during the course of our chat, that he’s determined to prepare a great roadmap for future candidates.

Rıfat’s message to his constituency is economic. The main issues impacting the DuPage region are tax increases that create additional burdens on families and businesses. Increased taxes, reduced services, differences of opinion in DuPage administration, lack of transparency and the poor performance of the local government were all factors that kindled Rıfat’s desire to run for election. As the present presidential election is being fought on the economy platform, this choice is the correct one for local elections. Rıfat is determined to work on righting financial shortcomings first off, if elected. Another major topic he underlines is the need to increase transparency. As Rıfat is Turkish in origin, we have to appreciate his preference for local policies above national ones, as well as understand the relevance of local policies in election campaigns.

All of us in the Turkish-American section of society now are obliged to make the best of this opportunity before us. Rıfat has chosen to run for a local, instead of federal seat; this allows him to drop below the radar and thus avoid the unwelcome attention of anti-Turkish lobbies. The road ahead is a long one; the next goal, should he make it into local government on this occasion, is to enter Congress from his constituency. All of us in the Turkish-American diaspora must support Rıfat with all our might with this goal in view. This might consists of money. Our diaspora successfully raised a not insignificant amount of money in the 2008 preliminaries alone. The Hilary Clinton fund-raising campaign raised nearly half a million dollars. This power now needs to be exercised to support Rıfat.

US election campaigns are tough for every candidate with a vested interest in Turkey. Whatever their identity, all anti-Turkish lobbies launch huge campaigns against candidates they view as close to Turkey. This holds true whether the candidate is a brand-new one, or an incumbent representative or senator. Opposing candidates, representing their interest groups, and supported by huge donations, are fielded at the first possible opportunity. We witnessed this at close quarters during Osman Bengür’s campaign in 2006. Similar events are already taking place ahead of the November 2008 elections.

This political chess game is well planned and all parties friendly to Turkey are forced into corners. The staunchest ally of Turkey in the House and the head of Turkish-American Parliamentary Friendship Group, Robert Wexler, faces these attacks in Florida every election. What is needed is to learn the rules of the game well and play by the rules, rather than complain about the situation. It falls upon us to not only support candidates friendly to Turkey, but also draw a long-term roadmap for candidates who rise from our ranks and explore ways of carrying them through to the House and the Senate.

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07