Five out of seven candidates were elected or reelected in office, as the political engagements among immigrants and children of immigrants continues to grow
By Ruben Avxhiu
It was not a presidential election nor an unpredictable mid-term round, but this November 5, 2019, turned out to be a night to remember for the Albanian-American community.
At least, five out of seven candidates with Albanian roots won their races for local offices. The list could be longer, and we will continue to add names whenever we learn about them. The local county and city boards and legislators don’t get the same media attention.
Of the seven Albanian-American candidates running for office, three are women. Six are Democrats, one of whom moderate enough to win in a Republican stronghold, and one is a Republican. Two rivalled each-other for the same position. Four of them were born abroad and came to this country with their families. They are all proud Americans and proud of their Albanian roots.
They are also an inspiring example to a community that is becoming more active in local politics.
The winners were: Vedat Gashi, Buta Biberaj, Jetlir Kulla, Donna Colorio, and Rob Gjonaj-Donovic. Colorio defeated another Albanian-American woman Etel Haxhiaj, in a last moment upset. Visar Tasimi was also left out of the Board, despite his great potential. A 30-year old with a great future, he will come back soon.
Here are the profiles of some of them.
Vedat Gashi is elected to Westchester County Board of Legislators
Just north of New York City, Westchester County’s legislature has turned deep blue now with only two Republicans in a 17-seat chamber. Yet, Vedat Gashi won in a district that encompasses his home, Yorktown, where three Republicans out of four, won on Tuesday, in an otherwise great night for the Democrats.
He embraced his mother who had tears of joy in her eyes and thanked the community for the generous help.
Vedat has an incredible life story behind him. He was only 4 when his family was forced to immigrate from Kosova to escape the oppressive Yugoslavian regime of the Socialist League, which treated Albanians as second-class citizens on the wrong side of the curtain during the Cold War.
He and four siblings lived in the Bronx, before moving up to Yorktown a place he now calls home.
A graduate of Lakeland High School, Connecticut College and Seton Hall Law School, Gashi went on to become a successful businessman and a real estate attorney, in Yorktown where he lives with his wife and two children.
He’s a rare candidate for a local position who brings international experience in local government. After the graduation, he helped state-building efforts spearheaded by the United States in the war-torn, Kosova, the country of his birth. “[F]irst through a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and later through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations, he drafted some foundational legal documents for the youngest republic in Europe, (Kosova declared its independence in 2008), including those needed for establishing the Ministry of Local Government Administration. The United Nations nominated him as Chief Legal Advisor to Kosova’s Prime Minister. (You can read more about his biography here: https://www.vedatgashi.com/about/)
He returned to Yorktown after Kosova declared independence, built a local business and worked to improve the life of the community, where he grew up.
Yorktown Supervisor Ilan Gilbert, one of many official, who have endorsed him say to described Vedat Gashi to a local news source as: “a real upcoming talent, demonstrating great knowledge of our town, county and state. He’s a sincere family man and cares deeply about his community. I’m excited to see him focusing his efforts on the people of Westchester and have no doubt he’ll accomplish a great deal.” (https://www.tapinto.net/towns/yorktown/articles/yorktown-s-vedat-gashi-runs-for-westchester-county-legislature).
He has certainly impressed many in the Albanian-American community in Westchester and New York and is certainly to have a bright future in front of him.
Buta Biberaj is the new Commonwealth’s Attorney of Loudoun County (Washington DC area)
What a victory for this fierce woman who grew up in The Bronx, one of the eight siblings in a family of Albanian immigrants. Many of her large family clan, which includes her brother, Elez Biberaj, Director of EuroAsia Division in the Voice of America were in attendance as she gave her victory speech.
Buta Biberaj was the perfect candidate for the job. She had been a substitute judge for 11 years, during which she had presided over hundreds of cases, criminal and civil, accumulating a wealth of experience.
Notably, days before the election she received a glowing endorsement by the Washington Post. Besides of coming from a major American newspaper, this endorsement helped also because as the Country Attorney she will serve in the metropolitan area centered on Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States.
Other powerful endorsements included one from Eric Holder, former Attorney General of the United States.
Buta Biberaj was born in Montenegro but received her education in the United States.
She founded early her own legal firm and acted as a principal of Biberaj Snow & Sinclair, PC working as an attorney in Loudoun County since 1993. She has her J.D from the George Mason University School of Law and a B.S. in Education, from George Mason University. Tough, principled, a born fighter, she has been for nearly a quarter of century the ultimate defender in a trial setting.
The motto of her campaign was “Justice is Truth in Action!” Now she has the chance to put that to practice.
Visar Tasimi was running for the Board of Mayor and Burgesses
Son of Albanian immigrants, Visar is an accomplished young community leader. He completed his bachelor’s degree a year early, with a 4.0 GPA and has been recognized by the Hartford Business Journal in their “40 Under Forty” Class of 2019. And he is only 30.
The Democrat candidate has already served for two years as a Finance Board member and has excelled in his job. He will be back again, because he shows tremendous potential in any mission that he immerses himself.
He has already been giving back to his community in Naugatuck, where he has lived 26 out of 30 years of his life and to the country of his parents, as an advisor for the government and Ministry of Diaspora.
His parents, Tasim and Donika, Visar and his wife, as well as his siblings, they all live in Naugatuck and are passionate about making their county a better place to live. (You can read about his profile more here: https://patch.com/connecticut/naugatuck/naugatuck-candidate-profile-visar-tasimi-burgess)
And here’s a powerful endorsement from his state senator, who sees in Visar a force that will only grow in serving his community: https://www.mycitizensnews.com/columns/letters-to-the-editor/2019/10/letter-tasimi-would-be-an-exemplary-member-of-board/
Jetlir Kulla is elected for a third term as Alderman of the Fourth District, in Waterbury, Connecticut
Two election cycles ago, he became the first Albanian immigrant to serve on the Waterbury Board of Aldermen. A rising star in local politics, he proved himself to be a hardworking representative of the East End.
Public service runs in his blood. His father, Jonuz Kulla, served as President of the local Albanian Community Center and of the community board which opened the way for the Annual Albanian Festival, now a growing beautiful tradition that benefits the entire community.
Few people appreciate democracy more than he does. His grandfather, Ajdin Kulla was a teacher who was executed by the communists in 1945 in Albania. Jetlir was born in an internment camp and was not supposed to have future. This all changed when communism collapsed, and his family immigrated to the United States.
He is passionate about his work at the Board and strives to make his constituents proud.
Jetlir Kulla works as a Sales Operations Manager, at Discount Power in Shelton and has a Bachelor of Science (honors degree), from Charter Oak State College. He is married to Anxhela Kulla.