New York City is set for local elections in November 2021. But certain districts have special elections to the city council in the next weeks, as the seats fell vacant before the term ended. The first of these is District 24, which fell vacant because incumbent Rory Lancman left to join a position in the state government. There are eight candidates in the running, six of whom South Asian Americans, out of which four are women.
The District 24 special election will be a test run for ranked-choice voting in New York whereby people vote for up to five candidates, in order of preference. This system will be also be used for the party primaries in June. For the city council elections, candidates do not have party affiliations and are use their own slogans or tag lines.
Voting for this seat takes place on Feb. 4, early voting starting on Jan. 23 and ends on Jan. 31. Absentee ballots closed on Jan. 26. This district, like much of the city, has never had a South Asian American hold a council member position before. The district covers the part of the Queens County that has a huge concentration of South Asian immigrants, many of them of Bangladeshi origin.
Neeta Jain, a practicing psychologist, broke the glass ceiling in 2016 by becoming the first Indian American woman to be elected as a Queens Democratic district leader. She is hoping to make history again on February 2 in the special election as the first South Asian American city council member. She is president of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Democratic Club and the International Ahimsa Foundation. An immigrant from India, she and her family have lived in the area for three decades. She has a variety of community roles, including as senior vice-president and trustee of the Hindu Center Inc, chairperson of the community advisory board of India Home, and member of the Parent Council of Barnard College.
Three main issues engage her: safety, small business and education. Although hate crimes have witnessed a big drop in the past year, Neeta says they can still happen any time. She proposes a community task force to keep vigil and build bonds. Small businesses have been decimated in big numbers by the pandemic. She calls for eviction moratorium and access to low-cost loans as most of the federal bailout given last April went to Fortune 500 companies. Funds for education would include devices and internet connection for children sent home for online instruction and also funds for STEM education for youth in her district.
Her slogan is Community First and she says her years of experience volunteering in the community have given her insights into its problems, in an interview with the publication of the Queens country Politics. She has been endorsed, among others, by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, from New York’s 12th Congressional district.
Soma Syed was born in Bangladesh and moved to the U.S. at the age of 12. She is an advocate with a longtime private practice in Jamaica and president of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association. Her slogan is Soma for Queens and she has build her campaign around the slogan “Justice for All.” For example, she calls for justice in education so that there is fiscal equity and support for trade schools and vocational programs, and to reduce the rush for a college degree. She is also calling to provide PPEs in schools, stipends for distance learning, measures to make housing affordable and give the community a say in large developments. She seeks single-payer health care, so that the lowest income groups of New York could save a lot while the state saved $ 5 billion. In criminal justice she would like to replace complaint review boards with district attorneys to curb police atrocities. She also advocates community policing. In environmental justice, she would like to retrofit all buildings with wind and solar power and put an end to the burning of coal for heat. She also advocates vertical farming to reduce the price of produce, and the use of green rooftops to help improve air quality.
Syed has a long history of community activism. After Superstorm Sandy, she helped clean up in Far Rockaway and provided landlord-tenant dispute advice. She joined the protests at JFK airport against Trump’s travel ban on Muslims and posted informational videos in English and Bengali for small business owners and distributed N95 masks. She prefers to distance herself from the Queens chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), arguing it is anti-Semitic and not transparent.
Deepti Sharma’s slogan is A Better Queens and her press statement emphasizes Empathy, Equality, Action. She is founder and CEO of FoodtoEat, a community-minded catering concierge service. She started the service in 2011 to connect immigrant, women and minority-owned food vendors to opportunities for growth, eventually helping them to strengthen their own business skills. FoodtoEat helps businesses feed employees quality food and build stronger and more diverse work cultures. She is also a co-founder of Bikky, a platform solving customer engagement for restaurants.
Sharma had volunteered for Fernando Ferrer’s 2005 mayoral campaign when she was still in college. She also volunteered in Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Her business and activism experience brings something unique to the race, she told Queens County Politics. For example, her business sense kicked in when she saw closed storefronts in the district.
As a small business owner who is also the mother of two small boys, Sharma is a vocal advocate for policies that benefit these groups. She served on the board for the Business Center for New Americans, a non-profit that encourages immigrant entrepreneurship by providing micro-loans and financial education. She also writes about how companies can modernize motherhood in the workplace, and mentors female entrepreneurs as part of the NYC Mayor’s Women Entrepreneurs Initiative.
Sharma is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, a Forbes 30 Under 30 alumna, and an avid runner. She lives in Queens with her husband Abhinav Kapur and two children Zubin and Chetan.
Moumita Ahmed, a Bangladeshi born activist, says she is running to bring real working class representation to City Hall. She started the Queens Mutual Aid Network when the pandemic started to help families access food and unemployment benefits. Her campaign is about building a movement grounded in those ideals of mutual aid and solidarity. Her slogan is Mo for the People.
She says, “Developers are building apartments we cannot afford; fossil fuel companies are polluting our futures; police unions are protecting officers who violate the law… The real power is when our communities come together or fight for what is right and just.” She had won three key endorsements: from Tenants PAC (Public Action Committee), Amplify Her and NY Immigration Coalition.
An economic justice activist, in 2016 she was a grassroots organizer with People for Bernie Sanders, co-founder of Millenials for Bernie Sanders, and organizer with the Working Families Party. In 2018 she was the social media director for the Justice Democrats during U.S. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s successful primary run. She co-founded Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress, the first political club in New York for progressive Bangladeshis.
South Asian women have successfully competed in elections and increasingly, many are running for office. With Kamala Harris in office, the trend is projected to increase and is welcomed by the community.