‘I’m grateful to be able to serve this community’

Eman El-Badawi makes history becoming first Muslim, Indian and Egyptian mayor in Cranbury

Andrew Harrison/The Cranbury Press Eman El-Badawi (center) swearing-in as Cranbury's next mayor for 2024 on Jan. 2.

Eman El-Badawi did not set out to make history.

But that is what she did for a third time in Cranbury when fellow Township Committee members elected El-Badawi as the township’s first Muslim, Indian and Egyptian mayor during the governing body’s reorganization meeting on Jan. 2.

“I did not set out to be the first of anything,” she said. “I knew that not seeing anyone look like myself that I would be the first at least to look like me in a hijab and clearly not of the same ethnicity as the people that have come before me.”

With the meeting room inside Town Hall packed with people and an overflow standing in the hall and lobby of Town Hall, El-Badawi was sworn in by former Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer as El-Badawi’s husband Omar Mobin-Uddin stood by her side.

El-Badawi received a standing ovation from fellow officials, residents, family and friends when she officially became Cranbury’s mayor for 2024.

“I just set out to be able to serve my town in greater capacity than I had been,” she said. “So, when everybody started talking to me about ‘Oh, you’re going to be the first Muslim, Eqyptian veiled female mayor.’ There are so many things there, they lost me after the word first and I thought you know it’s not for me, but [for] everyone else.”

El-Badawi explained that people are looking for themselves in these leadership roles and she is grateful to be able to satisfy that for them. For herself personally, her goal is to be an adequate and successful leader of Cranbury.

“I never campaigned as a Muslim candidate, I never campaigned as a candidate for diversity, I campaigned as a Cranburyan that is the space I enjoy and want to occupy,” she added.

Since her election by fellow members of the Township Committee, she has been serving in the position of mayor for more than two weeks now.

Andrew Harrison/The Cranbury Press
Mayor Eman El-Badawi (center) delivers her remarks and leads the Township Committee for the first time at its reorganization meeting.

She first made history in Cranbury after winning a three-year term on the Township Committee in November 2021.

El-Badawi’s win then made her the first Muslim, Indian and Eqyptian Township Committee member to serve on the governing body. In 2023, she became the first Muslim, Indian and Egyptian serve in the role of deputy mayor.

Even though El-Badawi’s degree and background is not in politics, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Douglass College, Rutgers University, worked in a development biology lab and volunteered her time in the community.

During her first year, El-Badawi did not think she could ever be in the mayoral position.

“The mayor’s position is a position of responsibility and I was not there yet. But I got to know my colleagues on the township committee are and were very supportive in general and they took on the attitude of ‘let’s groom each other [for the leadership role],'” she said.

“That is a very generous perspective, I think. The idea here in Cranbury is we are a small town and if we do not foster a sort of mentorship of the next person you may not have a leader tomorrow. It is hard to find volunteers to step up and take on a burden or leadership.”

After her first year on the governing body, El-Badawi told herself she can’t cut herself short and that she had “worked, researched, and learned a lot.” She noted how she put herself out there to see if a mayorship was in her future.

“Mike Ferrante was very instrumental when he said he would nominate and support a deputy mayorship for me. He said, ‘we will groom you for mayorship for the next year if you would like to seek that position,'” she recalled, explaining that she owes a lot to Ferrante and has a lot of respect for him and the rest of her fellow township committee members.

The idea to first run for office on the Township Committee took a while for El-Badawi to commit to. She was first broached about running for the committee by fellow Township Committee member Matt Scott.

“When Matt mentioned it to me, I was very new to this town and had an experience at a Candidates Night that was not the best reflection of what the town does offer in terms of its residents and welcome,” she said. “At the time I asked if [Scott] would come to my house and chat with me about the town and his interest in leading.”

After that conversation, El-Badawi fell in love with the idea of leadership from among the town and told herself the experience she had at the Candidates Night was individual to the person that made comments about her.

“It did not reflect the whole town. I volunteered for everything that I could and learned more and continued giving back. It took me two years of sitting in that space of volunteerism and just enjoying myself,” she stressed.

Following the second year in a space of volunteerism, El-Badawi had attended just about every Township Committee meeting just to watch it – even as a date night activity with her husband. The Cranbury Democratic Committee would later approach her to run.

The evening El-Badawi was elected mayor for 2024, she was sworn in by Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer, who had previously made history as the first Asian and Muslim American woman in the New Jersey State Legislature and the first South Asian American woman as mayor in the state when she served Montgomery Township.

El-Badawi described that having Jaffer swear her in was very emotional.

“My heart was bursting with joy and pride. I was very emotional, because it was this idea that the one person ahead of me that had walked this path was going to hand me the baton,” she said. “I can’t put it into words.”

Looking ahead

For this year, El-Badawi said she wants the Township Committee to continue to be flexible to manage issues that come up, address the idea of the aging population in Cranbury, and have the Committee continue to be ready for any requirements issued for affordable housing.

“You can never predict the disasters or the things you need to draw your attention to when they come up. I would like us to continue to be fluid and available and able to pivot to manage those issues as they arise,” she said.

She wants the Township Committee to continue the good work of enhancing communication, transparency and community outreach.

“The one thing I will say that has been glaringly needing attention in my last two years is the idea that we have this aging population, and it is time to address what does that mean for Cranbury and what is our responsibilities, and where do we need to focus a little bit more on,” El-Badawi emphasized.

“So, this year we have a Senior Interest Subcommittee that will look deeply into this issue, and we would like to continue a little bit this year to see how we can continue to manage and be ready for any sort of requirement for affordable housing. Denise Marabello does a great job with this.”