Scores of Indian-Americans gathered for some joyful Bhangra dancing June 23, 2020, outside the campaign office of Indian-American candidate for New York State Assembly Jenifer Rajkumar, a Punjabi by ancestry. Leaders of the Muslim community also showed up to congratulate her, she told News India Times.
While COVID-19 may have affected voter turnout, the ‘in-person’ ballots cast in the Democratic primaries in New York state have put on the map candidates like Rajkumar, 37,running against incumbent State Rep. Michael Miller in Queens State Assembly District 38; Zohran Mamdani, 29, running for the NY State Assembly from District 36; as well as candidate for U.S. Congress Suraj Patel, 36, running perhaps the toughest race against 14-term Rep. Carolyn Maloney on the Upper East Side from District 12. The vote counts mentioned in this article are from ny1.com.
While the final outcome of the primaries will be known only by June 30, as absentee ballots are counted, the primaries in and of themselves displayed the extraordinary rise of a younger generation of Indian-Americans who say they could grab the majority in that mail-in category to send them to the halls of power in Congress and in the State Assembly.
This June 23, in a four-way race, Patel garnered 40.1 percent with all in-person votes counted, less than two points behind Maloney who won 41.7 percent,
The number of votes separating Maloney from Patel are just 652.
Patel, like many other candidates, is banking on the absentee ballots.
“New Yorkers resoundingly voted for change,” Patel told News India Times. “We are confident of winning.”
In District 12, some 79,000 absentee ballots were sent to voters, and 11,000 have been returned so far, according to the New York Times.
Patel estimates that some 51 percent of them were requests from voters under the age of 45, his campaign estimates. “We do well with younger voters, and a bulk of them are among absentee voters,” Patel said.
In the rematch of 2018 between Maloney and Patel, the Indian-American secured 40 percent of the vote against Maloney’s more than 59 percent. That 40 percent was enough for the hotelier and activist to decide on a rematch in 2020.
“New Yorkers are not done with hope and change. That is what tonight’s results show. We are confident in our path to victory after a very strong performance on Election Day, which traditionally favors establishment voters,” Patel said in a statement, adding, “Over 58% of New Yorkers have rejected the incumbent’s politics of the past. We have a mandate for change, and the final tally will reflect that.” The 58.3 percent was the aggregate of percentages won by the he 3 Democrats other than Maloney, in the race.
Patel said his campaign had run the “best” absentee ballot field program in this race, “and now the energy and momentum is on our side.”
“So by our estimates, we are confident we will win,” Patel told News India Times. “We got a big support from younger South Asians who joined as interns and volunteers, and even among voters,” though he acknowledged that District 12 does not have a significant South Asian presence.
If Patel’s primary win may still be a little bit iffy, that of Rajkumar is seemingly more decisive.
Results of in-person voting were trickling in for New York showing Rajkumar had won the Democratic primary for a seat in Albany by an overwhelming 52.1 percent of the vote in a three-way race in District 38, where incumbent Assemblyman won 25.8 percent.
“This is a historic win for our community,” Rajkumar told this writer. “The South Asian community organized and came out for me. We won in every neighborhood, in every part of the District. The Bengali, the Punjabi , the Indo-Caribbean community stood united to propel me to victory,” she noted. As did other communities she noted. “Which speaks to the fact that Indian-Americans crosscut the vote.”
Woodhaven, where Rajkumar lives, is heavily Latino, and she won the vote there; Richmond Hill and Ozone Park have a large South Asian population; Glendale and Ridgewood have a predominantly Caucasian population, a mix of moderates and liberals dominant in each respectively.
Rajkumar said her team ran a “robust” absentee ballot campaign, indicating she would get some of that vote further bolstering her chances.
Currently, there is one Indian-American in the upper house in Albany, New York State Senator Kevin Thomas, a Democrat.
Over the last several months, Rajkumar became a ubiquitous presence in neighborhoods with large number of Indian-American residents, courting the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean vote, leaning on her cultural links to the communities.
Her field operations for the race were completely halted March 15th in response to COVID-19. a Since then her campaign focused on a “24/7 Coronavirus response” with a hotline for south Queens residents, offering help in Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi, as well as Albanian and Spanish.
Some supporters already see her as a winner of the District 38 seat to the Assembly. “Rajkumar is to be 1st Indian-American in NY State Assembly,” said one Henry Goldman on Twitter, basing his prediction on a Bloomberg report.
In State Assembly District 36, Zohran Kwame Mamdani, won a 7 point lead over his opponent, incumbent Democrat Aravella Simotas, both with similar progressive platforms. Mandani won 50.19 percent to Simotas’ 43.2 percent, according to City & State, with all 83 precincts of the District reporting.
Mamdani is the son of famous Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair, originally from Uganda, and her husband Mahmood Mamdani,
The candidate who describes himself in his campaign website as “a housing counselor and Indian-Ugandan New Yorker, from Astoria, Queens, cautioned about celebrating too soon before absentee ballots are counted.
“We’ll have to wait to see if our lead holds. But to be leading even amidst a global pandemic makes it clear: another world really is possible. Together, we can tax the rich, heal the sick, house the poor, defund the police & build a socialist New York. Solidarity forever,” Mamdani tweeted.
Like a number of young candidates running against party incumbents, Mamdani, is supported by the Democratic Socialists of America party, affiliated with former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In State Senate District 19,which includes Brooklyn, of Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese descent incumbent Roxanne Persaud had an impressive showing, getting 74.3 percent of the in-person vote.
In Congressional District 5, Queens/Long Island, Shaniyat Chowdhury, won 22.4 percent of the in-person vote in his Democratic primary race against longtime incumbent Rep. Gregory Meeks who secured a comfortable 77.6 percent.
In another State Senate race, from District 23, Staten Island/Brooklyn, Rajiv Gowda secured 26.7 percent against incumbent Democrat Diane Savino’s 73.3 percent.
Sujata Sidhu Gibson, an Ithaca attorney, law professor, and activist from upstate Finger Lakes region, running for NY State Assembly from District 125, ranked second in a tough seven-way Democratic primary race, with a little more than 80 percent of the in-person vote count in. However, she was way behind with 15.1 percent of the vote to Anna Kelles’ 33 percent.
Interestingly, in the State Assembly District 24, Queens, two South Asian origin candidates together garnered a larger proportion of the in-person vote against the incumbent. Incumbent Democrat David Weprin kept his seat with 46.5 percent of the primary in-person vote, but Mahfuzul Islam got 29.5 percent and Albert Baldeo 24 percent.
Mary Jobaida, of Bangladeshi ancestry, running for the NY State Assembly in the Democratic primary from District 37, Queens, lost to incumbent Catherine Nolan, securing 33 percent to Nolan’s 52.5 percent.
Moumita Ahmed, who ran for Female District Leader Democratic Leadership District 24 Part A, came out close behind Martha Taylor. Taylor received 51.12 percent and Ahmed 48.57 percent. “It’s not over,” Ahmed tweeted, adding, “I’m proud of the support I received from folks to get this far. We are going to fight to ensure that every vote is counted.”