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Assemblywoman Jaffer (D-Montgomery) Will Not Seek a Second Term – Mayor Keenan Eyed as a Candidate

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted January 18, 2023

Sadaf F. Jaffer — who led a Blue Wave in Montgomery Township flipping all local elected offices from Republican to Democratic — has decided not to run for a second term in the state Assembly.

As a South Asian-Muslim-American, Jaffer, 39, is a pioneer in clearing a pathway for minorities and woman in politics. Montgomery Township Committee made her the first Muslim woman mayor in the United States in 2019. She went on to become one of the first two Muslim-Americans (elected the same year as Shama A. Haider D-Tenafly) to serve in the New Jersey state legislature.

Jaffer said in a telephone interview with The Montgomery News that she will remain in the Assembly until her term expires in December. "I am motivated by a spirit of community service," she said. "However, public service is tough, especially in this environment. I took stock on whether I wanted to do it again, and balanced it with my family's needs and my career."

Jaffer has a young daughter in one of Montgomery's public elementary schools, and her husband Dan Sheffield is a professor at Princeton University. She also has a career as a researcher and lecturer at Princeton University, where she teaches courses in South Asian Studies.

The Political Environment

When asked what she meant by the "environment," she cited the recent shootings in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where failed GOP candidate Solomon Peña was arrested and charged with being the mastermind behind a number of drive-by shootings that targeted Democratic state legislators.

Assemblywoman Sadaf F. Jaffer at the March for Our Lives rally in Princeton in March 2022. The rally was an effort to raise awareness and to protest against gun violence in the United States.

Peña, who lost his 2022 run for state legislature in New Mexico, claimed election fraud — even though he lost by a large margin. Albuquerque police arrested him on Monday. Peña is accused of paying and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners in December and January – and of trying to participate in at least one of the shootings, authorities said.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit: “There is probable cause to believe that soon after his unsuccessful (political) campaign, he conspired … to commit these four shootings” at the officials’ homes." At least one bullet went through the bedroom window of a 10-year-old girl, though no one was physically hurt.

It just happened that Jaffer made her decision not to run for re-election on Monday — Martin Luther King and the same day Peña was arrested.

Jaffer is not new to being harassed as politician — for her politic stances, her race, her gender, and simply for being a member of the Democratic Party. She had given testimony before the NJ Committee on Misogyny and Bias in State Politics in 2020.

One person “wished me death,” Jaffer told The Montgomery News in 2020. “May unhappiness, illness, and death plague you and your family. Muslims need to be removed from the planet by any means necessary” the person Tweeted to her.

“I have faced harassment from members of the public and even an elected official who sent me profanity laden messages, tried to undermine me, and to deny my authority as mayor. As a woman and a minority elected official, I often ask myself if I can in good faith suggest people from diverse backgrounds go into politics. I really don’t know the answer to that question. Elected officials need more support and help combating hate online and in person," she told The Montgomery News.

"There ought to be recourse, mediation, and other processes to ensure that diverse women’s voices continue to be included in policymaking.”

Montgomery resident Paul Blodgett, head of the Montgomery Township Democratic Party, initially asked Jaffer to run for office. "She is an exceptional person," he said. "I thank her for helping our state. She's been a good friend and an incredible asset to Montgomery. She made her decision on MLK day — a day of volunteerism and service. It is sad. These things are needed in this world. We need to find a way to be more supportive of people who serve."

Holding Public Office at What Price?

Jaffer stresses that her decision was not made in fear, but it played a part. She says wants to focus more on her work in higher education and spend more time with her family, "especially my young daughter."

Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer with NJ Senator Andrew Zwicker (D-Kingston), her husband Daniel J. Sheffield (right), and her young daughter after being sworn in as mayor in 2019. (File photo by Barbara A. Preston).

Being a politician may seem glamorous, but for many political families, the experience is actually quite miserable. It "is arguably the least family friendly institution in the country," according to a 2018 Politico article.

"On average, women enter politics at any level four years later than men do, according to Rutgers University Center for Women in Politics, at the age of 51 versus 47. The research at Rutgers also found that female state legislators are significantly more likely than their male colleagues to say that their decision to run for office was influenced by their children being “old enough.” If women do pursue an office, it is more likely at the local level in jobs that don’t require travel. Men are about twice as likely to express interest in a federal position." — Laura Capps, Politico

Jaffer noted that New Jersey politics is still "very male dominated." "It can be a broey [characteristic of bros] atmosphere," she said. "I'm so aware that I am a woman."

It also does not pay a livable wage, so members of the NJ state legislature branch must either be independently wealthy or hold another job. Members of the NJ General Assembly receive an annual base salary of $49,000. It is considered a part-time job. There are no heath benefits.

As of Jan 12, 2023, the average annual pay in New Jersey is $48,367 a year. For people with children, that would qualify for a discounted school lunch.

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What's Next for District 16 State Assembly

It is unknown who the Democratic Party will put forth to run for the 2024 NJ Assembly. All 80 seats in the New Jersey General Assembly are up for election will be on the ballot in November 2023. The 16th District has 230,000 constituents and includes parts of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset counties. The district was redrawn during last year’s redistricting process to add some additional municipalities in Hunterdon County and drop Somerville, a solidly-Democratic town.

"Democrats must decide if they are willing to run an all-male (or all-white male) 16th District slate. State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Kingston) and Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) are seeking re-election; and Democrats may feel an obligation to maintain South Asian representation in a central New Jersey district where 24 percent of the population in Asian American," according to the New Jersey Globe.

Names put forth from Montgomery, where Jaffer had served as mayor, include the following potential contenders: Mayor Devra Keenan and Deputy Mayor Neena Singh. Other diverse members on township committee include Patricia Taylor Todd, Vincent Barragan, and Dennis Ahn.

Mayor Devra Keenan

Mayor Keenan told The Montgomery News: "I haven’t made a decision [on whether to run]. I am sad to see Sadaf leave the Assembly as she has represented Montgomery well. But I respect her decision."

Jaffer is a self-described: "Passionate advocate for racial, economic, and gender justice." She earned a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University, with a secondary field in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

Bills Primarily Sponsored by Jaffer

  • Bill A2769Allows pharmacists to prescribe and dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives under certain circumstances.

  • Bill A3103Permits county board of elections to begin counting mail-in ballots up to 14 days prior to election day.

  • Bill A3837Requires State government entities provide vital documents and translation services in 15 most common non-English languages.

  • Bill A3713 "College Mental Health Services Act;" establishes grant program for public institutions of higher education and requires public institutions of higher education to report certain information concerning mental health treatment and suicides.

  • Bill A3682Establishes "Recovery Tax Credit Program;" incentivizes hiring and continued employment of certain individuals in recovery from substance use disorder.

  • Bill A4232 Prohibits investment by state of pension and annuity funds in, and requires divestment from, companies involved in production or maintenance of nuclear weapons.

Bills Primarily Sponsored by Freiman & Jaffer

  • Bill A509Increases from 18 to 21 age at which person is eligible to receive firearms purchaser identification.

  • Bill A3852Establishes New Jersey Child Tax Credit Program.

  • Bill A4711Requires Division of Travel and Tourism to promote central New Jersey, overnight stays, and agritourism; requires allocation of federal funds for tourism to certain regions and activities in need of economic relief.

  • Bill A1522 Establishes annual sales tax holiday for retail sales of computers, school computer supplies, school art supplies, school instructional materials and sport or recreational equipment.

  • Bill A4438 Makes supplemental appropriation of $1 million to Flemington Borough in Hunterdon County for drinking water infrastructure.

  • Bill A3100 Provides for establishment of New Jersey Water Infrastructure Center at institute of higher education designated by DEP; appropriates $5 million.

Bills Primarily Sponsored by Freiman

  • Bill A511Allows dogs in sampling and tasting areas of breweries.

  • Bill A512Provides gross income tax exemption for contributions made to qualified retirement plans.

  • Bill A513Provides gross income tax deductions for certain education loan payments made by certain taxpayers.

  • Bill A516Provides temporary gross income tax credit to first time home buyers and seniors.

  • Bill A521 Requires NJT to conduct feasibility study on restoring commuter rail service on West Trenton Line.

  • Bill A526Imposes certain requirements on businesses that make automatic renewal or continuous service offers.

  • Bill A528Establishes four-year Career and Technical Education Partnership Grant Program.

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