Montvale mayor Michael Ghassali, a Syrian immigrant whose family fled Aleppo when he was 15, is considering a run for Congress next year against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff).
“It’s an interest,” said Ghassali, who confirmed that he has spoken with Republican leaders about a House run in New Jersey’s 5th district.
He said he hopes to make a final decision about running on June 5, the day after the primary election.
“I need time to work out a few things,” he told the New Jersey Globe.
Ghassali is up for re-election to a second term as mayor this year. A two-term Republican councilman, he ran as an independent in 2015 and unseated GOP incumbent Roger Fyfe with 60% of the vote.
Democrats did not file a candidate for the June primary, but could still nominate someone through a write-in campaign. Independent candidates have until June 4 to file.
Ghassali said he might be suited to take on Gottheimer, the two-term congressman known as the human fundraising machine. He has a background in logistics and finance and works as the vice president of corporate partnerships for Feed the Children, where he’s raised over $400 million for a program to mitigate child hunger in the United States.
The mayor has made some news beyond his small northern Bergen borough on the New Jersey/New York border.
After President Donald Trump issued his February 2017 travel ban that barred Syrian refugees from coming to the United States, Ghassali said he would not allow Montvale to become a sanctuary city.
He won praise from conservative radio and television personality Bill Spadea, who called him “a man of conviction and courage and sees the bigger picture of his role as a leader and law abiding American.”
“He is truly the epitome of the American dream,” Spadea said in 2017.
Ghassali said his experience an Syrian Christian immigrant could make him a strong representative in Congress.
“If I can make a difference as a catalyst for a peace process between two countries, I’m all in,” Ghassali said.
Ghassali is the second Republican to come forward as a potential challenger to Gottheimer.
Frank Pallotta, a former investment banker with the ability to self-fund, formed an exploratory committee last month.
Gottheimer has $4.1 million cash-on-hand as he prepares to seek re-election in a district almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Donald Trump carried the 5th in the 2016 presidential election.
A former Clinton White House speechwriter and Microsoft executive, Gottheimer ousted seven-term Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in 2016 by a 51%-47% margin.
Former Cresskill councilman John McCann, who won 42% against the 5th district congressman in 2018, is considering a rematch.
Some Republican leaders have also mentioned Tim Luing, an owner of the for-profit Berkeley College, as a possible candidate. Luing now appears unlikely to run.