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Mayor Sadaf Jaffer Drops Out of Montgomery Township Election

Two candidates for one seat on Montgomery Township Committee will appear on the November 3 general election ballot. Mayor Sadaf Jaffer will not be one of them.

"I am no longer seeking reelection to the township committee this November," Jaffer wrote in a press release emailed to The Montgomery News on Thursday.

Montgomery Township Mayor Sadaf Jaffer

"I am proud of my work in public service over the past three years, particularly my focus on communications, transparency in governance, and diversity and inclusion initiatives. I thank all those who have supported me in my efforts.

"At this time, I have made the difficult decision to shift gears and focus on my academic research, teaching, and publications," she wrote.

Jaffer, the first female Muslim mayor in the nation, recently testified before a state panel against misogyny and bias. She said she has 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.

Jaffer was born in Chicago; her mother was born in Pakistan and her father in Yemen. She did her undergraduate studies at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and got a doctorate in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from Harvard University.

She moved to New Jersey with her husband in 2012, and is a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton University, where she is revising a book manuscript about an Urdu writer, and teaching courses related to Islam in South Asia and South Asian American film and literature.

“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," she told the state panel. "I really don’t know the answer to that question. Elected officials need more support and help combating hate online and in person.

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

Jaffer will continue to serve Montgomery Township as mayor until the end of her term this December, and she says she will engage with the community in a different capacity thereafter.

Shelly L. Bell, will run as the Democrat candidate for Montgomery Township Committee in the November 3 election. A political newcomer, Hossein Zolfaghari, will appear on the ballot as an Independent candidate. Republicans did not field a candidate.

Zolfaghari is a Montgomery High School graduate, Class of 2018. He is a marine biology student with a minor in Spanish at Rutgers University.

Jeffrey Grant, a Conservative Republican from Belle Mead, had staged a last-minute effort to appear on the ballot, but he did not receive enough votes in the July 7 primary election. He needed 30 write-in votes, but only earned 26.

Who Is Shelly L. Bell?

Bell's LinkedIn page identifies her as "a polished communicator with a demonstrated ability to instill a shared sense of purpose, win enthusiastic support, and bridge gaps across diverse social, cultural, economic, faith-based, and political lines by making human connections."

Shelly L. Bell

The Montgomery Democratic Organization has endorsed Shelly L. Bell for the township committee.

"I know she shares the same commitment to community building that I do," Jaffer said in a prepared statement. "I urge you to vote for her in this year’s general election."

Bell, a native of Newark, is listed as a motivational speaker, a CEO, and an emcee on her LinkedIn account. She is enrolled in the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, where she is pursuing a master's of divinity degree. She earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and counseling and a master's degree in marriage and family, both from Pillar College, a private evangelical Christian college in Newark.

Bell has worked as director for Pillar College Academy of Continuing Education and as a director of advancement and donor relations for Pillar. Prior to her arrival at Pillar, she served as the administrator and director for Family Friendly Program at Babyland Family Services in Newark, according to her biography on the Pillar website.

In addition, Bell served in state government for 12 years managing the day-to-day operations for the 28th Legislative District Office. (as an aid for Assemblyman Craig A. Stanley, who served in the 28th legislative district from 1996 to 2008.) Bell has worked as director of operations at Leadership Newark, is working to help Newark's current and next generation of community leaders achieve success.

She moved from Newark to the Skillman section of Montgomery Township in 2016. Bell was appointed to the Montgomery Planning Board in September 2019.

In February, Bell joined the Somerset County Commission on the Status of Women. The commission is a group of concerned individuals who are interested in identifying and addressing issues that affect women in our communities. The commission was created by the Somerset Board of Chosen Freeholders in January 1985.

In a prepared statement, Bell said: “I am motivated by the spirit of public service. I want to ensure we are good stewards for future generations including our children and grandchildren. My educational background in counseling and governmental experience at local, state, and federal levels has prepared me well to serve in elected office. I am happy devoting my time and energy to our beloved community and I ask you for your vote to continue the progress we have made.”

Montgomery Democrat Organization Chairman Paul Blodgett said: “Our 2020 campaign platform is ‘Connecting Montgomery, Protecting Montgomery, Preserving Montgomery.’ Over the past two years the municipal government under Democratic leadership has accomplished a number of successes, from managing the COVID crisis with some of the lowest infection and fatality rates in New Jersey, to creating a virtual Main Street through the Montgomery Together initiative, to keeping the public informed with regular communications. Shelly Bell will bring fresh perspectives and knowledge to these shared goals and we proudly endorse her.”

Montgomery Deputy Mayor Marvin Schuldiner adds: “I wholeheartedly support Shelly Bell’s candidacy for Township Committee. She will bring strength of character and depth of experience to this role.”

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