Once again, a record number of Asian Americans and a growing number of Pacific Islanders are running for public office at the local, state, and national level.
Every week, Reappropriate will profile progressive AAPI candidates for higher office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2020 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.
Jeremy Akbar Cooney is endorsed by Run for Something, which 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.
What is your full name?
Jeremy Akbar Cooney
What office are you seeking?
New York State Senate
When is the election date?
November 3, 2020
What is your party registration (if any)?
Democratic Party, Working Families Party (endorsed)
Tell me a little bit about your background in general, as well as your relationship to your identity as an Asian American and/or Pacific Islander?
I was born in an orphanage in Calcutta, India, and adopted at a young age by a single mother in New York. I always joke: I’m the tannest Irishman with the funniest upstate accent you’ll ever meet. While I have been back to India, including to visit the orphanage I was born within, it has been through this State Senate campaign that I discovered my cultural identity as an Indian man. I am so grateful to our local South Asian community that has embraced and supported me. One of my Indian supporters told me: “I want my son to see someone who looks like us in political office.” As an American, that sentiment is incredibly impactful on me, and I finally feel like I belong to the country I was born. I am so proud to potentially make history as the first AAPI candidate ever elected to state office from upstate New York.
How did you become inspired to seek elected office?
One of my first jobs was working for Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in Washington. She inspired me to go to law school and to pursue a career in public service. She was not like other politicians. She taught me and my colleagues to always pick up the phone, do the work, and follow up with our constituents. When so many in our community struggle to get answers and results from elected officials, she reminded us daily of the importance of letting people be heard and to be reminded of the job that we are tasked with in public service.
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?
Healthcare is too expensive and hasn’t worked for far too long. Families choose between paying co-pays and saving for the future. Young people cannot afford high cost deductible plans, so they remain essentially uncovered. Our seniors cannot buy expensive prescription drugs on fixed incomes. I believe healthcare is a right and something must change. I support universal healthcare and the NY Health Act.We must make change to ensure children and families have access to high quality healthcare, period.
Criminal Justice Reform
Our criminal justice system imprisons too many people for too long at too high of a cost to families, communities and taxpayers. This is particularly true for Black and Brown populations and those with economic disadvantages. Recent protests have shown us that the time for change is now. We must put an end to needless arrests and expand protections against oppressive policing and judicial sentencing. We can also increase access to support resources for marginalized communities, such as stable housing, mental health counseling, social workers, and drug and alcohol addiction treatment.
Public School Funding
The Rochester City School District has been vastly underfunded for years. The graduation rate at RCSD hovers around 50% and child poverty in the City of Rochester is 2nd highest in the nation of cities with populations over 200,000. We must act to receive the appropriation of funds from the state level that our students and teachers deserve. It is imperative to the success of our community and funding not only our schools but the future which will define it.
What impact has the current political climate had on you as an Asian American and/or Pacific Islander progressive seeking elected office?
I feel that AAPI candidates struggle to belong in today’s racially-charged dialogue. Our brown complexion doesn’t fit nicely into one category or another. We are not Brown, as members of the Latinx community. We are not White. And we do not share the years of oppression and systemic racism that Blacks in the U.S. have had to endure.
In many ways, AAPI citizens have been given privilege by society based upon our community’s strong scientific and business educational background, which has produced affluence for some families. That privilege conception, however, is also a misnomer. One of the poorest ethic minorities in New York City are Asian Americans.
Similarly, AAPI citizens have faced racial discrimination since the September 11th attacks. Personally, I have been pulled off airplanes after passengers complained that I might pose a threat because of the color of my skin. Additionally, my fiancee Diane, who is Chinese, has also faced discrimination in the wake of current coronavirus pandemic, based upon divisive messages from the White House. What is clear is that we need more AAPI voices at all levels of government to tell our stories and represent one of the fastest growing minority groups in the nation.
What advice would you have for other young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently considering a career in politics and/or public service.
Step up, and run. Break barriers and be proud of the cultural identity you bring to public office. Once there is a first, there should be a second. Help blaze that trail for the next generation. Be a part of our story being told and be a part of it within the realm of serving others.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your campaign?
- Website: JeremyCooney.com
- Facebook: facebook.com/JeremyCooneyROC
- Twitter: twitter.com/JeremyCooneyROC
- Instagram: instagram.com/JeremyCooneyROC
How can readers get involved to help your campaign? Are there any upcoming events you’d like for us to know about?
All events are shared via our Facebook page. As we just finished our primary campaign, and are awaiting the official results of the election, we do not have any events planned until certification is finalized, however our website and social media will contain all necessary updates.
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.
If you are a progressive Asian American or Pacific Islander running for elected office in 2020, and would like to be profiled in this series, please contact me for more information.