NEW YORK – It’s been raining incessantly, for days on end it seems, with an increasing chill in the air; dissipating summer. But New Yorkers can be thankful that Hurricane Florence is not bearing down on the city this week. It’s likely to deluge the Carolinas with umpteen inches of rain. Nevertheless, it’s a city that over the course of the week, is celebrating Rosh Hashanah holidays, grieving over the 9/11 terrorist attacks 17 years ago, and come Thursday, September 13th, will head off to the polling booths for the primaries.
All eyes are on the November polls, of course, which is significant not only for the fact that all 150 Assembly seats in New York are up for election. It could see huge changes on Capitol Hill; Democrats could regain majority of the House, with repercussions on the White House as well.
The challenge for candidates in New York City, especially, is to charge up the voters, to actually turn up to vote in the primaries.
The city, like the state, is overwhelmingly Democrat. The 2016 elections saw the liberals romp home by a 106-43 margin in the Assembly, with one Independence Party member. The Democrats later picked up a Republican seat in a 2017 special election. In the Presidential elections, Hillary Clinton won 99 districts and Donald Trump won 51 districts.
And then there’s the prospect of more rain on Thursday, which could be a big dampener for voters, literally.
The curiosity for many Democrats, and political hawks, will be the margin of defeat – or victory, as you may look at it – between the Democratic Socialist Cynthia Nixon, the actress and education activist, who’s best known for playing the role of Miranda Hobbes in ‘Sex and the City’, and incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in the Democratic primaries for the gubernatorial race.
Though Cuomo seems impregnable – has got endorsements from all those who really matter – the astonishing success of political novice, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist, who upset the veteran politician and Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, in the 14th US House congressional district, less than two months ago, is something to contemplate upon.
Nixon, on her part, is an appealing candidate. She’s down-to-earth, passionate about bringing change to the city, to benefit a larger cross-section of society, from issues like legalizing marijuana to school reforms, and issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented workers, through executive order.
Nixon’s running on a platform which will draw in immigrants, especially undocumented residents, and low income workers. She appeals to those who struggle to keep up with quality of life in a city which seems to gobble up spaces in a flash for expensive, high rise buildings and commercial enterprises; edging out society’s lower strata of workers further away, to poor neighborhoods already congested, bursting at its seams.
Nixon appeared for an interaction with the local media, last week, at the MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center, where she talked about immigrant issues in depth. She lambasted the Trump Administration’s conservative approach towards work visas.
“There are so many horrifying things that Donald Trump is proposing in terms of restricting access to people from certain countries that cannot be described in any other way than being racist, and biased against people coming from poorer countries,” said Nixon, in response to a question I posed her on numerous restrictions on the H-1B visa, and impending doom for work permits for H-4 visa holders, which could affect as many as 100,000 workers, mostly from India.
Nixon also condemned the Trump Administration’s attacks on immigrants and on people of color, which she denounced as, occurring “frankly in an unprecedented way at least within my own lifetime.”
Nixon added on the immigration woes in the Trump era: “You look at immigration, the history of immigration. For hundreds of years, immigration from across the board has caused this country to be so strong, and so prosperous. The direction the Trump Administration is going is absolutely the opposite direction we need to be going in. Targeting certain countries for immigration and for winnowing down is something I firmly reject. We need not only people who have come from other countries, or people whose parents and grandparents came from other countries, but we need to keep a steady flow of immigrants from different countries and from different skill levels, and we need to be encouraging a diverse flow of immigrants and not targeting or excluding them.”
Nixon reacted also to the Supreme Court’s decision in India which decriminalized gay sex, revoking an archaic rule from 1861, imposed during British rule.
Nixon, who is married to a same-sex partner, in response to a Desi Talk question, said she advocated marriage rights also for same sex couples in India.
“What we saw here, in the US, in Texas, in Lawrence vs Texas (ruling), was that decriminalizing gay sex was really an important turning point that led to much greater equality and significant changes like marriage. I congratulate India! I think marriage is a human right and should be available to same sex couples the way it is available to opposite sex couples,” Nixon said.
Nixon’s road to the governor’s mansion on 138 Eagle Street in downtown Albany is not an easy one. But sometimes, persistence in politics tends to pay off. The margin of her loss – if it comes to that – in the Thursday primaries, will be an important marker, going forward.
One can hark back to the same road taken by former presidential candidate Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. When Jindal first ran for governor on a Republican ticket, in 2003, he lost to the Democrat Kathleen Blanco. However, he shifted his focus to a US House of Representatives race the next year, and was easily elected. Jindal got re-elected in 2006, and then he again set his sight on the bigger prize. Jindal ran for governor again in the 2007 election and won. He later won the 2011 re-election too with a landslide margin.
Nixon made it clear that she’s in there for the long haul, whatever the outcome of the primaries.
“I am feeling very confident, but whatever happens, I love my city and I love my state and certainly there have been a whole host of issues that I have been fighting on for decades including LGBTQ equality and women’s rights, abortion rights but most especially for education,” she said.
“Whatever happens on Thursday, I’m not going anywhere,” Nixon said.
Moving on to the Assembly, there is only one Indian American in the reckoning for the primaries in New York City.
In District 74, Akshay Vaishampayan is running on a Democratic ticket.
Vaishampayan grew up in Los Angeles, and is an alum of the University of California, Irvine and the American University of Paris. He is standing on a platform which includes reform in student loan debt, which he says is holding back the younger generation. He also advocates the chance for New Yorkers to own a house – not to pay rent for a lifetime, and to legalize marijuana.
The only other South Asian-origin candidate running for the Assembly is in District 54, where Bangladeshi American Khorshed Chowdhury is running on a Republican ticket, like he did in 2016.
In the 39th District, incumbent Assemblywoman Ari Espinal was endorsed by South Asian leaders, last week, at a press conference, held at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights.
The supporters for Espinal included District Leader Dr. Neeta Jain (D-25), District Leader-at-Large Moin Choudhury, District Leader Dr. Taj Raj Kumar (D-31), District Leader-at-Large Gurdip Narula, and District Leader John Albert (D-24).
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)