Historic primary: New York could have 3 South Asians in City Council come November

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The political tides turned dramatically for the Indian-American and South Asian community in The Big Apple following the June 22, 2021 party primaries. Now they could boast three city councilors in the upcoming November elections. And there were others who came close to winning.

Shekar Krishnan in District 25; Felicia Singh from District 32, and Shahana Hanif of District 39, won their party’s nomination. And Jaslin Kaur as well as Amit Singh Bagga, popular political personalities and activists, almost won the primary.

Photo: Twitter @FSingh_NYC

Felicia Singh (felicia2021.com) is a lifelong resident of Ozone Park and the daughter working-class immigrants. She is the first in her family to earn both a high school diploma and college degrees.

In November, Singh, who is of Caribbean-Indian origin, will be trying to overturn the Republican hold on the southern Queens’  seat in District 32 and has a tough race ahead trying to defeat Joann Ariola, the chair of the Queens Republican Party.

A teacher by profession teaching tenth grade, Singh has been an activist spearheading voter registration drives and community service projects as Vice-President of Our Neighbors Civic Association of Ozone Park, and serving as Queens Borough Director of Amplify Her. Singh spent two years in China volunteering for the Peace Corps.

Singh was elected to serve as a member of Assembly District 23’s County Committee, and in 2020, she served as a member of the Southeast Queens Complete Count Committee, where she worked alongside local leaders and the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure communities like hers were both fully counted and allocated sufficient funding, her website says.

Backed by the Working Families Party, Singh is running on a platform that centers education equity and environmental justice.

“I’m so proud to be the Democratic nominee. People believe in the message that we’re sending from this campaign. I think it really resonates with the district and I’m so proud. I really want our community to feel like this win is for them and that they won with us,” Singh is quoted saying in the Queens Chronicle.

Shekar Krishnan, candidate for NY City Council from District 25. Photo: Twitter @voteshekar

Shekar Krishnan (voteshekar.com), a community activist and civil rights lawyer specializing in housing discrimination cases, is the son of immigrants from South India.

According to his campaign website, Krishnan is the co-founder of Communities Resist, a grassroots legal services organization focused on housing and racial justice in North Brooklyn and Queens.

He represents tenants and neighborhood coalitions in fair housing litigation and anti-displacement advocacy in some of the most gentrified neighborhoods in NYC.

Krishnan began his legal career with the landmark Broadway Triangle fair housing struggle against the City of New York, a successful fair housing case challenging the rezoning of one of the largest plots of vacant land in Brooklyn.

He is also the co-founder of Friends of Diversity Plaza, a site located on the border of Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, “which has become a national symbol of how public space can bring people together,” the website says.

At the height of the Covid pandemic, he coordinated the collection and delivery of PPE directly to the frontline workers at Elmhurst Hospital. Apart from that, he has been at the forefront of educating immigrant tenants on their housing rights; fighting for racial justice; standing with the LGBTQIA+ community to fight hate and intolerance; advocating for safer streets for children and seniors, demanding more public-school funding, and mobilizing to protect and expand green spaces.

Shahana Hanif, Bangladeshi-American running for NY City Council from District 39 in Brooklyn. Photo:Twitter ShahanaFromBK

Shahana Hanif (shahanafrombk.com), of Bangladeshi origin, is well-known for her housing activism in Brooklyn’s District 39, and beyond, her website says.

As an activist she led the fight against domestic violence, and was a Twitter-influencer during the protests at the Metropolitan Detention Center where inmates had no heat or power in the height of winter.

Hanif is known for helping create the Avenue C Plaza, now a gathering spot for community events; starting a free immigration law clinic; advocating for a healthcare system for those who need it and for disability rights as she lives with Lupus; and protecting survivors of domestic violence.

She is Director of Organizing and Community Engagement for Council Member Brad Lander. Among her responsibilities is running Participatory Budgeting, a process that engaging community members in actively deciding how to spend public funds.

“Shahana’s work leading PB spans from encouraging residents to submit their ideas, to facilitating community conversations with relevant city agencies to develop ideas into feasible plans, and to getting out the vote for the projects that make it onto the PB ballot,” says her website. As of now PB has funded $4 million in projects across District 39, such as Muslim women’s self-defense workshops, bathroom renovations in district schools, etc.

The Indian American Impact Fund (IMPACT) congratulated the three winners not just for the victory but also “for building historic, grassroots movements in New York City.”

“We are so proud to have endorsed and supported all three of these candidates out of the 33 candidates we considered citywide, because they are the exact advocates our community needs,” IMPACT said in a statement.

“We will still need to get Shahana, Felicia, and Shekar across the finish line in November, but this historic primary election will give New York City’s flourishing Desi community the representation we deserve — and it’s only the beginning,” IMPACT’s Executive Director Neil Makhija said

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