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Ahmad Saadaldin officially enters HD 58 special election race

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While much of the focus on the House District 58 special election is fixated on the duel between Republicans Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure, the winner of next month’s primary will still have to win the general election in December.

One of those others seeking to replace Republican Dan Raulerson will be progressive Ahmad Hussar Saadaldin, now officially running as a non-party-affiliated candidate.

The 26-year-old University of South Florida Mass Communications graduate isn’t in the special election to make a statement. He believes he can win.

“I’m going to win,” Saadaldin flatly declares in a phone interview Thursday afternoon, disputing the notion that the GOP nominee emerging next month will be the clear favorite to take the seat shortly before Christmas (the general election is Dec. 19).

Saying he has tremendous respect for both Fry and McClure for the work they’ve done in the community, Saadaldin feels the people of Plant City and Temple Terrace “don’t want people who take big money that are going to make it in Tallahassee and then just cut the budget for public education” as he says was the case in the Republican-majority Legislature.

Saadaldin is one of many millennials captivated by Bernie Sanders‘ improbable run for the White House last year, and says he was a part of the “Dem-exit” group of disaffected Democrats who had no use for the party after the manner that the Democratic National Committee treated Sanders, leading him into the arms of the Green Party.

He quickly immersed himself in Green Party politics and spoke at presidential nominee Jill Stein‘s Ybor City event last year.

But while he says the Greens are the best venue for the progressive values that Sanders inspired in him, he’s not running as a Green. That’s because he Florida election law required that he would have to leave the Democratic Party and remain a Green Party member for a full 365 days before qualifying for office.

However, Saadaldin considers that a blessing in disguise.

“While I believe Green Party is a place for me, I do realize that a lot of Democrats and Republicans don’t want to be told that the two-party system has failed you, but ‘hey, there’s another political party why don’t you come join us and trust us,'” he says.

“I do think the Green party has a lot of good values and good intentions, but at the same time, I think people are sick of partisan politics, so I don’t think the solution is to draw people to another political party, but rather to draw them to the issues, and that’s what made Bernie Sanders’ campaign very impactful and successful,” he adds.

While at USF,  Saadaldin was president for Students for Justice in Palestine and led the on-campus “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) campaign in 2014. BDS is an international economic movement designed to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories, and it is controversial.

“I’ve been called a terrorist, and I’ve been called anti-Semitic, none of those are true of course,” says Saadaldin. “It’s just the nature of the field of work that I’m in, and there are people who are passionate about the state of Israel, and I understand that. I’m very critical of the state of Israel, and  I believe the Palestinian people are really suffering under the occupation.”

Saadaldin understands why some in the Jewish community are concerned about his involvement with the BDS movement, because “anti-Semitism is a real thing.” It’s just not real within the BDS movement, he says.

There isn’t much support for BDS in the Legislature — state lawmakers passed, and Gov. Scott signed a bill during the 2016 Session that prevents Florida from investing in or doing business with companies participating in boycotts of Israel.

Among his most passionate issues are public education, climate change and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Florida.

Saadaldin will formally announce his candidacy at the Islamic Community of Tampa on Friday at 2 p.m.

House District 58 encompasses Plant City, portions of Temple Terrace and Thonotosassa. Democrat Jose Vasquez is also in the race.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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