“It’s a new day in Chicago and Cook County!” according to the Indo-American Democratic Organization (IADO), one of the earliest political action committees in the country.
Four candidates, three of them of South Asian descent, endorsed by IADO, won their local seats in Cook County in the April 2 municipal elections – Bushra Amiwala for District 73.5 School Board; Arti Walker-Peddakotla as Oak Park Village Trustee; Minal Desai for Skokie Park District Board; and Andre Vasquez for the 40th Ward Alderman.
The Indo-American Democratic Organization, recruits candidates to engage South Asians in the local political process, especially in areas where the community lives in significant numbers; it publicly endorses them after they answer a questionnaire, and then goes on to give them financial and other support to run their campaigns, Abin Kuriakose, a member of the IADO board of directors, told Desi Talk.
“A recent study by the South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI) showed that while 45 percent of South Asians are registered to vote, less than 20 percent actually vote,” Kuriakose noted, adding, “That’s one of the reasons we support such grassroots candidates, because we want to ensure local level participation to show our representation in Illinois.”
Walker-Peddakotla is a senior product manager at a non-profit company, according to her website ajpeddakotla.com where she has the sign ‘Om’ in the Hindi script, above her name. She describes herself as a domestic violence survivor, a sexual assault survivor, an army veteran, policy director, microbiologist with a Masters degree in microbiology and immunology, apart from being an activist, mother, and wife. She advocates for empowerment of women and other underrepresented groups, as well as an activist for veterans. She was the policy director for Sameena Mustafa, a 2018 candidate for the U.S. Congress from Illinois’ 5th District.
Desai, former vice president of Diamond Bank, is currently with Medford Capital, according to her Facebook page. She grew up in Skokie and has three children. She is involved with their school, the Skokie Indians baseball and softball leagues, National Night Out, Cop on a Roof, and works with many area businesses, her profile says. She helped the Skokie Park District with the Festival of Colors event, last summer.
Amiwala, of Skokie, Illinois, was born and brought up in the U.S. to immigrant parents. Her website amiwala2018, notes she served as an intern for former Republican Sen. Mark Kirk though she is a Democrat, and in that position, she sought to “build empathy” with the Republican Party. She was featured on Seventeen magazine cover in a feature entitled, “How This Sophomore is Running for Office.” She was also featured in other publications. Amiwala is one of the directors on the IADO board.
“I won my election! Saying those words out loud in front my family, close friends and number one supports, I got tears in my eyes. To be truthfully honest, I cried on Election Night last year too, and never imagined running again so soon. Thank you, thank you, thank you” Amiwala tweeted April 3
Vasquez was born and brought up in Chicago to immigrant parents, is a senior manager at a utility company and says he knows how to work collaboratively, set goals and get things done, according to his election website.
The Indo-American Democratic Organization was established in 1980 and is among the oldest Indian-American political action committees in Illinois, and possibly in the United States. It endorsed a slate of candidates for the municipal elections in Chicagoland. Supporting candidates to the lowest level offices, is a way of ensuring there is a “pipeline dynamic,” a “grassroots approach to building the bench,” so that these candidates can take advantage of higher offices as and when they present an opportunity to run, Kuriakose said.
“We are proud to have endorsed these progressive candidates who will advocate for Illinois’ working families which include New Americans, immigrants, and our own growing 250,000+ South Asian American community,” IADO said in a press release.
The organization also congratulated the newly elected Mayor of Chicago Lori Lightfoot, as well as Chicago Treasurer-elect Melissa Conyears-Ervin who defeated Indian-American candidate Ameya Pawar, Alderman from the 47th District. The organization also expressed support for victorious Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia.
Together the three winners of the top City posts, Mayor, Treasurer, and City Clerk will be women of color, a historic first. “They truly represent the diversity of Chicago and we’re excited to work with them and the new city council,” IADO said.
Apart from Amiwala, the IADO Board of Directors consists of the first Indian-American elected Senator of Illinois, Ram Villivalam, as well as Susan Patel, Shajan Kuriakose, Abin Kuriakose, Samay Gheewala, Nazneen Hashmi, Tom Kalayil, Al Khalfan, Sam Kukadia, Maneesh Limaye, Sameer Mayankar, Dilara Sayeed and Vivek Yeldandi.