Fifth candidate enters N.J. District 16 Assembly race

Faris Zwirahn

Princeton resident Faris Zwirahn announced Monday night that he has entered the Democratic primary race for the New Jersey Assembly for the 16th District, which includes Princeton, South Brunswick, and portions of Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

Zwirahn, a Princeton resident, is a local activist, teacher, and scholar. A first-generation college graduate who grew up on a farm in rural Eastern Syria, he said he is committed to progressive ideas, including the need for diverse representation in government. If elected, he would be the first Arab-American, first naturalized immigrant, and first Muslim to serve in the New Jersey legislature.

In 2010, Zwirahn obtained a Fulbright Scholarship, which allowed him to leave Syria to study in the United States. When his Fulbright expired, conditions in Syria worsened, Zwirahn said it became clear that if he returned to Syria, he would be disappeared due to his political activism. He applied for and received political asylum in the United States, and became an American citizen in 2017.

His platform focuses on COVID-19 relief policies that positively impact the most marginalized residents of the state, on good governance reform, and on policies that support health in communities. He said his campaign will prioritize progressive policies, including: providing hazard pay to low-paid frontline workers during the pandemic; ensuring parents, and especially mothers, have access to the childcare subsidies they need to remain in the workforce; advocating for restorative justice alternatives to the criminal legal system; promoting diverse representation in New Jersey government that reflects the community through improving the ballot design; creating a non-partisan fund to support candidates from marginalized communities’ run for public offices in New Jersey; implementing smart taxation to support health and redefine poverty; and using smart taxation to support Medicaid expansion, address the opioid crisis, and increase the poverty line.

“My deep personal experience with poverty and knowing the struggle of trying to get ahead are part of the reason why I am running. Additionally, growing up and having a front-row seat to authoritarianism and inequity shaped my deep appreciation and understanding of the importance of human rights,” Faris said. “Most importantly, New Jerseyans and our community were there for me when I needed them the most as a refugee. They were there for me when the Trump Administration and his ‘Muslim Ban’ rhetoric became a threat to so many of our neighbors and me. My first-hand experience as a minority and immigrant helps me understand the struggle of so many people in our community. Now, I have a duty to serve as we continue to fight for a more progressive agenda that reflects the diversity of our growing constituency.”

Zwirahn is the third Princeton resident to enter the District 16 Assembly race in the Democratic primary. Scientist Chis Fistonich and Princeton Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros announced their candidacies last month. Former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer is also running for an assembly seat, and incumbent Roy Freiman is seeking reelection. Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker is running for the New Jersey Senate in District 16 in the Democratic primary. Republican Senator Kip Bateman announced last month that he is retiring after almost four decades in politics.