Indian-Americans have produced a few of the youngest politicos around the country – the youngest governor in the country, Nikki Haley of South Carolina; the youngest state legislator in Ohio, Niraj Antani. And now, New York City has probably the youngest candidate running for City Council from District 2 – Chetan Hebbur, (“It’s like Nathan with a “ch” – Hebbur tells all those who are pronunciation-challenged).
The 21-year old is a math and economics student at New York University, and a marketing consultant. He was born in Oklahoma, brought up in Dallas, Texas, and moved to New York University in 2013. He will be 22 when and if he gets elected to the council, and would become the first Indian-American to be elected to the council. In terms of age, he will match former Bronx Councilman Joel Rivera who was 22 when he was elected in 2001. Hebbur wants to occupy the District 2 seat being vacated by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez whose 12-year term-limit is over.
The precedent for an Indian-American soliciting votes in the neighborhood may not be so alien to residents. For many years, the Lower East Side, which is part of District 2, had Jenifer Rajkumar as its Democratic Elected Leader. Then she ran for and lost her bid for the State House from District 65, last year, and is today Gov. Cuomo’s Director of Immigration Affairs.
District 2 is heavily Democratic so a win in the primary this September is like winning the general election in November. It includes the localities of East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, the Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill and — what Hebbur may be thinking of as his vote-bank — some NYU dorms.
Hebbur told Desi Talk, he met Councilwoman Mendez as planned, to pick her brain about what she saw as priorities that remained unfinished. Mendez is endorsing her staffer Carlina Rivera for her seat so according to Hebbur, the conversation did not go too far. The battle may end up being tough for the Indian-American novice politician, as a host of candidates, is running, including Ronnie Cho, Erin Hussein, and Mary Silver apart from Rivera and Hebbur.
Hebbur is holding a Town Hall on April 7 at Myers Hall in NYU, to discuss what the priorities of District 2 constituents are.
“My priorities are broadly- Public Health (drug policy, autism, elderly abuse). Increasing support to nonprofits and advocacy groups with more infrastructure to help than creating government bureaucracy. Criminal justice (body cameras, independent task forces for internal investigation, BLM, etc.),” Hebbur told Desi Talk.
The son of Malini and Arun Hebbur, a physician and an IT engineer, respectively, Chetan Hebbur wants to reach out the the South Asian community. “Ideally, if you live in the city– reach out, help us campaign, it’s ALL grassroots. If you’re afar, vote vote vote. Learn about your candidates. And of course, spread to me any possible connections within the city that would make my life easier,” Hebbur appealed in a response to this correspondent.
Hebbur says he’s getting future leaders engaged in local politics — all those millennials who were energized by the last presidential election, many of them disappointed by the results. This disappointment, he notes is not hard to understand “Based on the fact that 86% of the city went blue this election season.”
Among his reasons for running is his own “thrilling” but a lot of the time, “depressing” experience of being in this metropolis which can often get lonely amid the busy-ness, Hebbur says on Facebook. He even considered moving elsewhere because the reality was so “uncomfortable.”
“New York City, I believe our current reality is uncomfortable, but I am confident we can overcome it together,” says Hebbur asking for support in the city he has now made home and where he lives, studies, and works as a marketing consultant.
Jumping into a competitive race is Hebbur’s “attempt to make an impact, while showing others where to properly place their well-warranted disdain.”
He wants people to use critical reasoning rather than emotion in deciding who to support. And he is critical of social media for spreading irrationality. “Many of us, for example, are not afraid of the imminent threat of ISIS—but the rest of America truly was, especially in locations completely unlikely to be attacked by anyone.”
He also feels his demographic has been ignored in District 2, where NYU students rarely vote, he says. “Many of my classmates have funneled their energy into protests about their disagreements, but seeing a protest a day has normalized them for me,” Hebbur says. He wants to turn that into constructive engagement and action, such as writing legislation that would change New York City.
He urges everyone in the district to register to vote; thoroughly research the candidates, and vote for the one who will serve their best interests. And he promises to “always ground my legislative decisions in reason, and publish my exact rationality for everything I support,” and to respond to every concern district members express on his private portal.
He certainly does his research. When a constituent asks him of Facebook, what he thinks of the plastic bag fee that Gov. Cuomo had “stopped from being executed,” Hebbur launches into a four-part detailed answer about the wording, the beneficiaries, the solution, and what would have passed the legislature.
He urges students to continue to live in the city where opportunities to change the world are ever present. “Vote for me this upcoming election, and you can guarantee a Councilmember who hasn’t been affected by the negativity of politics, and desperately desires change,” says Hebbur.