In historic first, Indian-American lawmaker in N.J. appointed Majority Whip in legislative assembly

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New Jersey State Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, representing District 33, is slated to become the House Majority Leader, only the second Indian-American ever in the nation’s history to be holding that post. (Photo: NJ Legislature)

The only Indian-American lawmaker in the New Jersey General Assembly, has been appointed the House Majority Whip for the 218th legislative session. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin made the formal announcement Jan. 12 morning making Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, a third-term legislator, the Majority Whip, confirming confirming earlier news reports. He becomes the first Asian-American and first Indian-American in state history to serve in this role.

Mukherji, 33, who represents the 33rd District in N.J. , may also be the youngest but that is yet to be confirmed. The New Jersey State Legislature also has an Indian-American in the Senate, Vin Gopal, a Monmouth County small businessman and Democratic Party leader, elected this November.

Mukherji told News India Times he was humbled by the Speaker's trust and confidence in him, adding, "With the swearing-in this week of Vin Gopal as our state's first South Asian senator, New Jersey joins Maryland as one of the only two states with multiple South Asian American lawmakers and one of only two states with South Asian Americans in legislative leadership."

The former sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve (2001-2009), was elected to the state assembly in 2014, becoming the second Indian-American after Upendra Chivukula of Franklin, N.J., who served several terms before taking on and losing the challenge of running for the U.S. Congress. Mukherji also has the distinction of being the only Marine in the assembly.

“I am confident, based on his zealous advocacy for progressive priorities on the Budget Committee and his personality, that Raj is the right guy to count the votes and help achieve consensus within our caucus,” Coughlin is quoted saying in the press release. “Even with his professional success, Raj never forgot his humble roots, and he is well-liked and widely respected by his peers in the legislature. His support in the caucus will be invaluable as we tackle challenging issues and a comprehensive agenda.”

Mukherji is a partner in the Jersey City-based law firm Mukherji Wolf LLC and co-owns several healthcare businesses. At 24, Mukherji was appointed Commissioner and Chairman of the Jersey City Housing Authority, the youngest in city history, where he is credited for bringing about various reforms at the state’s second largest housing authority, the press release said. At 27, he was appointed Deputy Mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey.

In September last year, Mukherji married New Yorker Natasha Alagarasan, 32, a contracted Google project manager and former news producer of “The Call” on NY1, the New York Times reported.

Assemblyman Mukherji's immigrant story is impressive. When his father Asim Mukherji, took ill and could not work, his parents returned to India, and he supported himself through high school, college, and grad school as an emancipated minor. Witnessing his late father's situation after suffering a pituitary tumor, stroke, and other ailments, unable to get health coverage without a job, shaped Assemblyman Mukherji’s perspective and interest in healthcare policy, according to his election website.

While still at middle school, Mukherji founded an Internet consulting and software development company, grew it, and later sold it to a larger technology company to enlist in the Marines two weeks after 9/11 at age 17. He withdrew from high school after completing ninth grade to focus on his business endeavors and support himself after his parents were forced to move to India. At 15, he enrolled in an early college program at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State University, an individualized Master of Liberal Arts focused on national security from the University of Pennsylvania, and a law degree (Juris Doctor), cum laude, from Seton Hall Law School, which he attended on a Chancellor's Scholarship.

In the state legislature, Mukherji represents probably the most diverse Legislative District (33) in the state comprised of Jersey City, Union City, Hoboken, and Weehawken.