While the nation focused on one of the biggest election upsets for the Democratic Party, and possibly for India and Indian-Americans, in the defeat of Congressman Joseph Crowley, D-NY, in the June 26 primaries, several Indian-Americans and South Asian-Americans experienced mixed results in their races in New York, Maryland, and Colorado, three of the 7 states which held primaries. (The remaining states where primaries were held included Mississippi, Utah, South Carolina, and Oklahoma)
After serving in the House of Representatives since 1999, Crowley, the former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and head of the Democratic Caucus in Congress, was defeated by a newbie in a dramatic upset in District 14, where Indian-Americans are among the several minorities that reside, and whose interests Crowley addressed on a continuing basis over the years.
In other races, Indian-American Democrats won in a couple of primaries in Maryland but lost in New York. But there were more losers than winners. Meanwhile, Indian-American Republican candidates featured far less if at all, in this round of primaries.
Rep. Crowley lost his own party’s endorsement in N.Y. Congressional District 14, to newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, winning just 42.27 percent of the Democratic vote to Ocasio-Cortez’ 57.13 percent, according to the New York State Elections website.
Crowley, who represented the significant Indian-American community in Queens and Jackson Heights, may be sorely by the community which banked on his leadership in Congress on issues pertaining to foreign policy toward India and on Sikhs joining the U.S. defense forces. He served as co-chair of the India Caucus in the 112th and 113th Congresses, and helped grow the India Caucus which was formed in 1993, to become one of the largest caucuses in the House. He was a recognized leader on Indian and Indian-American issues in the House of Representatives. He consistently took up the case of hate crimes against Sikhs and Hindus calling for these minorities to be listed in FBI data gathering. He spearheaded a multi-year, successful effort to convince the federal government to begin collecting data on hate crimes committed against Sikhs-and Hindus, an important issue brought to the national spotlight by the massacre of Sikhs worshipping at a temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012. He also touted India’s candidacy in the United Nations Security Council, Crowley took the lead the symbolic achievement of holding Diwali celebrations on Capitol Hill starting in 2013. Crowley accompanied former President Barack Obama on the historic visit to India for the Republic Day celebrations in 2015. Crowley also led the Democratic whip effort as part of the Congressional push to secure the enactment of the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement.
In another race against a long -time Democratic incumbent in New York, Indian-American businessman and former Obama campaigner, Suraj Patel, lost his maiden bid to unseat Rep. Carolyn Maloney in District 12. He is the second Indian-American to challenge and lose to Maloney, the other being Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, back in But he ran a feisty campaign against the veteran Congresswoman who has courted the Indian-American community over the years. She played a leading role at the end of a long campaign by Indian-Americans to get a U.S. Postage Stamp issued commemorating Diwali.
Maloney won 58.42 percent to Patel’s 40.99 percent, the New York State Election website showed. Patel sought to court the vote of millennials and other constituents including sex workers, and took some unique steps to get his name recognition, including distributing condoms bearing his campaign message, and leaf-letting his flyers around the district.
In New York’s District 5, Democratic incumbent Gregory Meeks, kept his candidacy intact going into the Nov. 6 mid-terms, leaving other contenders trailing, including South Asian Mizan Choudhury with just 8.77 percent of the vote in the primary.
In U.S. House District 11 from New York, the Democratic primary featured an Indian-American Radhakrishnan Mohan, and a South Asian American Omar Vaid, both of whom lost to fellow Democrat Max Rose who secured more than 64 percent of the vote.
In Maryland, one of the Democratic hopefuls in whom Indian-Americans had placed considerable hope, Aruna Miller, a State Delegate and civil engineer by profession, went down to David Trone, a business tycoon who spent millions of his own money, in the 6th District. Miller had been supported by a number of progressive groups and the leading political action committee Emily’s List which supports women candidates, as well as Sierra Club. Miller ran a campaign highlighting the need to elected the “only” woman in the all-male delegation that Maryland might end up sending to Congress if she lost the party primary. Despite losing the primary, Miller appeared to have significant traction despite the 8-way race, in which she managed to garner 31.5 percent of the vote to Trone’s 40.6 percent, Ballotpedia reported. Miller obviously stood a very good chance of winning had it not been an eight-way race.
“Aruna’s loss was heartbreaking,” said Kumar Barve, the first Indian-American to be elected to a state legislature, and a Maryland delegate of 28-year standing, who won his primary handily from District 17. “She raised one and a half million dollars, was universally respected in the House of Delegates; Lives in the District she ran from; plus major endorsements; ;and she inspired a lot of people – a cross-section in her district – White folks, African Americans … What the h**l else did she need to do?” Barve asked, the frustration evident in his voice. “We will now have no women representing Maryland in the House of Representatives. In this day and age?” he questioned. But he praised the support Indian-Americans in Maryland gave to Miller through her campaign, and criticized senior Democratic politicians who chose to support Miller’s billionaire opponent.
As for his own victory, Barve said, “Except that I really work hard, knock on thousands of doors. The end,” he told News India Times. Barve has won at least two of his previous primaries at the top of the pack, and now as chairman of the Committee on Environment and Transportation, he two areas of interest, Barve feels he has “real power” to make decisions and effect change, he added. The long-time delegate who has also served as the Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, garnered an impressive 26 percent of the vote, according to the State Board of Elections results. He topped fellow Democrats, Julia Palakovich Carr (24.6 percent), and Jim Gilchrist (20.1 percent), all three of whom go to the runoff as will the unopposed Republican George Ivan Hernandez.
Results for the other U.S. House of Representatives race where an Indian-American ran, were dismal. In Congressional District 8, Utam Paul garnered just 3.8 percent of the vote to incumbent Rep. Jamie Raskin’s 90.06 percent.
A Sri Lankan-American, aide to former First Lady Michelle Obama, aimed high making an attempt for Maryland Governor, Krishanti Vignarajah, trailed in a 9-way race, garnered 7.9 percent of the vote. The winner was Ben Jealous with 39.4 percent.
In the Maryland State’s Attorney’s primary, Vignarajah’s brother Thiru Vignarajah, lost his bid for the Democratic Party’s support. Thiru Vignarajah won just 19 percent of the vote, coming third in the three-way race, to incumbent Democrat Marilyn Mosby’s 52 percent.
Former school administrator and ‘lifelong educator’ Harry Bhandari, of Nepalese origin, running from District 8 for the Maryland House of Delegates, handily won as the top vote-getter, with 28.2 percent of the vote. Fellow Democrats Eric Bromwell (31.3 precent), and Carl Jackson (24.8 percent), were the other top vote-getters. If elected in November, Bhandari may become the first Nepali-American to be elected to a state legislature.
Several others ran in Maryland The nail-biting race for the Democratic Party nomination from the Legislative District 23A, between Indian-American Shabnam Ahmed, and incumbent Geraldine Valentino-Smith remained undecided even two days after June 26. Ahmed had 45.5 percent to Valentino-Smith’s 46.1 percent according to results posted on the government election website.
In District 16’s Democratic primary, Samir Paul appears to have made it by a sliver as part of the three top vote-getters with 20.5 percent to Sara Love’s 20.2, the election website shows. The two others who will be in the runoff are Marc Korman with 24.2 percent and Ariana Kelly with 21.7 percent in a tough 8-candidate race.
Emily Shetty, married to Ash Shetty, who ran for the Maryand House of Delegates from District 18, easily made it to the three top vote-getters with 19.7 percent. The two other Democrats in the top three won 22.1 percent (Al Carr), and 17.6 percent (Jared Solomon), again in a highly contested race among 8 Democratic aspirants.
Sachin Hebbar in Maryland’s District 42B, remains in the race come November, securing 2nd place in the three-way race where the top two get to move on. Hebbar’s 28.3 percent safely put him above Daniel Nemec (23.2 percent). Michele Guyton with 48.5 percent, ranked first.
Also-rans for the Maryland legislature were Anis Ahmed and Hamza Sarwar Khan in District 15, both of whom trailed in the 9-way race; as did Sanjay Thomas (5.4 percent) in District 40; Bilal Ali, an incumbent Delegate from 41st District lost his re-election bid by a narrow margin (11.6 percent) as did his fellow Democratic incumbent Angela Gibson (11.6), with the top three vote-getters garnering 12.1, 17.1, and 17.1 percent, in a tough race where eleven candidates competed for the party’s nomination.
Nilesh Kalyanaraman running in Maryland District 43, missed his chance with 16.6 percent, ranking fourth after the three who go on to November. The same fate awaited Aisha Khan in District 44B, where she got an impressive 20.8 percent ranking 3rd in the five-way primary where only two candidates could qualify.
A ambitious run by Anjali Reed Phukan, a Republican running for Maryland State Comptroller, against incumbent Democrat Peter Franchot, will deliver results in November.
In Colorado, an Indian-American candidate debuted on the political scene with an attempt to defeat long-time Democratic incumbent in Congressional District 1. Saira Rao, an attorney and children’s book author, jumped it to challenge Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, an 11-term Congresswoman. DeGette secured a safe 70.94 percent of the vote to Rao’s 29.06 percent, an impressive showing for a first-time candidate. Rao’s positions on issues like single-payer healthcare and her declaration that she was ‘breaking up with the party’ evidently resounded positively with a section of the Democratic voters.
(This article was updated June 28, 2018