This year, a record number of Asian Americans are running for public office at the local, state, and national level. Reappropriate has partnered with Run for Something — a non-profit launched in 2017 to support grassroots campaigns to elect progressive candidates — to profile these progressive Asian American candidates for higher office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2018 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.
What is your full name?
What office are you seeking?
Montgomery County Council, At-Large – Maryland
When is the election date?
Primary – June 26th
General – November 6th
What is your party registration (if any)?
Tell me a little bit about your background in general, as well as your relationship to your identity as an Asian American?
I’m a 15-year cancer survivor, a first generation Indian American, a native of Montgomery County, the son of small business owners, a proud product of MCPS, and have been working for President Obama for the last ten years, including on his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the White House, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Vice President Biden’s Office.
Through my work with President Obama, I’ve engaged and empowered communities in Montgomery County for the last 10 years. I ran efforts to increase the diversity in our government, get people access to affordable housing and affordable healthcare, and build grassroots support for NIH resulting in billions of dollars for cancer research.
I now want to bring that same level of commitment to the community I was born and raised in by making our elected institutions more representative, responsive, inclusive and accountable.
If elected, I would be the youngest and first Asian American to ever serve on the Montgomery County Council. I am also humbled to receive endorsements from SEIU Local 500, the former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Run for Something, and President Obama’s former National Field Director Jon Carson, among others.
How did you become inspired to seek elected office?
I am running because 15 years ago, when I was 13, I was diagnosed and treated for cancer. It was the scariest moment of my life and I had to grow up fast. I remember sitting in hospital rooms feeling like my life was over. And I found that people stopped talking with me as a person, and kept talking about me like I was just a number. So I felt powerless. But I refused to give up, and felt determined to make sure no one else feels as powerless as I was. I wanted to make a difference I could feel, and found my purpose by working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with President Obama.
Today, unfortunately, as the federal government is rejecting our values, so many in our community are also feeling powerless. They feel that our government is talking about them, instead of with them. And that’s why we need local leaders who will fight for our progressive values.
So I’m running for local office in the county I love to fight for the values we care about, and to ensure everyone has the same access to opportunity and the American Dream that my family and I have been blessed with.
What three issues do you think are most important to your constituents, and what step(s) do you plan to take to address them if elected?
I’m running to (1) Reduce our opportunity gap; (2) Strengthen our local economy; and (3) Reduce traffic congestion.
- I believe we must take a comprehensive approach to tackle the opportunity gap our county currently faces by supporting our students, regardless of their zip code. This means making Universal Pre-K a reality for all children; making the county an official sanctuary county to create a safer and inclusive community for our immigrant children, as well as to foster greater trust with local law enforcement; expanding language immersion programs to break down language barriers; supporting more vocational training in high school; and creating opportunities for more one-on-one time between students and educators by providing teachers greater autonomy and more support in the classroom.
- I believe we must strengthen our local economy by supporting our small business owners. My parents started their business in Montgomery County, and from them I have learned that great businesses are made by great employees who feel invested in the company. That is why I strongly supported and testified in support of the $15 minimum wage. Furthermore, businesses need thriving urban centers where their employees have greater access to live, work, shop and play. As such, I support smart growth that favors mixed-use development and creates inclusive communities with access to affordable housing, transit, education and employment opportunities.
- I support a comprehensive transit and road infrastructure plan that reduces traffic congestion, pollution, and provides greater accessibility and connectivity for residents all around our county. This will also connect people to jobs (thus fostering greater economic security) and connect businesses to their employees and customers (thus helping our local economy).
What impact has the current political climate had on you as an Asian American progressive seeking elected office?
I am very thankful for each day I get to live my dream of running for office in the county I was born and raised in. I genuinely love my work because it gives me purpose.
Through my work, I’m able to elevate the voices and concerns of those who feel marginalized or don’t feel like they have a seat at the table. It’s challenging, however, because there are so many people with many different issues and concerns and viewpoints. Sometimes, that can lead to people making personal and racist attacks.
Just a few weeks ago, I had one of these individuals make a racist comment on a social media post where he said, “deport this illegal”. It was upsetting on a personal level, but also reminded me of the systemic racism that is still prevalent in our society. We must work harder to engage and empower our diverse communities, create more cultural competency programs that help people understand there is not one “Asian America” or one type of “Asian American” as we have both shared and divergent experiences in our culture.
I believe we must also encourage and assist more young and diverse candidates to run for office. On my campaign, this also means empowering more young and diverse volunteers to take leadership roles in my operation and build a pipeline of activists who could run for office in the future.
What advice would you have for other young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently considering a career in politics and/or public service?
First and foremost, I would say focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be. No one should consider a career in politics for the title, position or prestige. Instead, they should spend time focusing on what issues they want to elevate and then decide how they best advocate for them.
Second, I want folks to understand that they do not need to have a long resume or be an “expert” on any particular issue to run for office or have success in public service. All you need is passion, a willingness to learn, humility and a clear explanation of why running for an office or working for a specific organization gives you a way to solve the issues you are passionate about. People will support you not because they think you are the smartest or most politically savvy, but because they think you will be easy to work with and sincerely represent their values.
Third, do not let anyone discourage you from fulfilling your dreams and pursuing the work you want to accomplish. Keep the faith, the passion, the optimism and the positivity.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your campaign?
Use the hashtag #EngageEmpowerMoCo.
How can readers get involved to help your campaign? Are there any upcoming events you’d like for us to know about?
In a county with one million residents, and an election with 33 Democratic candidates vying for 4 spots, I need all the help to get my name out.
Specifically, my campaign needs to make 20 hours of voter calls every week until the primary on June 26. As such, I’m looking for volunteers to spend as few as one hour every week to help make these calls. They can call from their living room on any day and time that fits their schedule. My team can provide a call script.
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Run for Something recruits and supports talented, passionate young people who advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years, with the ultimate goal of building a progressive bench. Since its launch on inauguration day 2017, they’ve recruited 16,000 young people to run for office.