Muslim college student takes seat on N.J. school board
JERSEY CITY -- A 20-year-old college student who may be the youngest person ever elected to a public position in Jersey City's history took his seat on the Jersey City school board last night.
Mussab Ali, a Rutgers-Newark student who was named a Truman Scholar last year, was sworn in to his one-year term last night by Passaic County's first Muslim freeholder, Assad Akhter.
Ali gave a short speech pledging to focus on the district's 27,000 students instead of politics and to protect students from bullying. Ali also cited President Trump's "absurd and dangerous" claim that "thousands and thousands" of Jersey City residents celebrated the 9/11 attacks.
"In an era where Trump is president, to be a Muslim elected here in Jersey City is something which I believe to be a powerful statement to the world," he said. "It's a testament to the discerning eyes of our residents who saw past the prejudices and biases attached to my name and age and voted me in to represent our students."
Ali, who believes he is the first Muslim elected to public office in Jersey City, was surrounded by family members who were buzzing with excitement.
"My heart is throbbing right now," his mother, Ghulam Firdaus, 55, told The Jersey Journal. "I feel like I'm flying."
Ali won by the slimmest of margins in November, defeating his sole opponent by just 68 votes out of a total 18,721 cast.
He was sworn in during the nine-member school board's annual reorganization meeting at School 11 on Bergen Avenue. Lorenzo Richardson was also sworn in, to his second term, while Amy DeGise and Matt Schapiro began their first full terms (DeGise was appointed to the board in January 2016 and was elected in November). DeGise, Richardson and Schapiro will serve three-year terms.
The board elected Sudhan Thomas as its new president and Richardson as its vice president. Both men received approval from board members Ali, Marilyn Roman, Angel Valentin and themselves. Voting no on both were DeGise, Vidya Gangadin, Schapiro and Luis F. Fernandez, who said "definitely not" when voting against Thomas. Fernandez declined to elaborate.
Thomas' election as president comes as the district's teachers are seeking a new contract. He was endorsed by the teachers union, the Jersey City Education Association, when he first ran for the board in 2016 and is viewed as both a union ally and a critic of Schools Superintendent Marcia V. Lyles, as is Richardson.
A union official breathed a noticeable sigh of relief last night when Ali cast the deciding vote appointing Thomas as president.