NYC District 23 Elections: Identity politics at its best

George Abraham

I had a front seat view of the recently concluded NYC council elections and have witnessed how much these contests have changed over the years. The district that includes Bellerose, Floral Park, Queens Village, Hollis, and Oakland Gardens has seen a very spirited campaign by a diverse group of candidates. The demographic shift is evident everywhere one looks as Queens has been a favorite destination for new immigrants over the past five decades. It is estimated that about 45% of the population in District 23 is foreign-born. Some of the major boulevards in District 23, such as Hillside Avenue, are dotted with South Asian businesses selling Masala Dosa and Shish Kabab, replacing  Italian Ice and Irish Whisky.

Considering these changes, the South Asians who live in the district have been trying for quite some time to have a representative of their own. The powerful democratic machine in Queens had a stranglehold on decision-making in that regard, and the disunity within the south Asian community always played into their hands.  This election cycle was no different in that regard as four candidates of Indian origin decided to contest. This time around too, the machine politics favored Linda Lee, a candidate of Southeast Asian dissent.

Harpreet Toor, Jaslin Kaur, and Sanjeev Jindal from the Punjabi community and Mr. Koshy Thomas from the Kerala community threw their hats into the ring. They appeared to have employed all the resources at their disposal to reach the voters in the district and convince them of their plans and proposals on how to improve the services to the community while assuring them of safety and security. In addition, there were three other candidates Steve Behar, Debra Merkel, and Linda Lee, who were also in the running.

To this observer, the campaign of Jaslin Kaur was distinct from all others. She was able to put together a coalition of young people from across the community who became foot soldiers on her behalf. She was endorsed by the progressive wing of the Democratic party led by Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez (AOC) and Bernie Sanders, along with many unions and the working family party. It is believed that she might also be the second or third choice of many voters from the Indian community, which might bode well for her in the final tally. The three other Asian Indian candidates focused their efforts primarily on theirown communities.  Sanjeev Jindal appeared to have garnered more support from the Hindu community, while Toor has benefited from the Sikh community support and Koshy Thomas from the Kerala Christian community.

Jaslin Kaur still may have a chance to pull off a surprise victory. If all four candidates fail again, there is only one explanation that we have not learned much from history, and our inability to create a consensus will continue to haunt us! If one adds up all the votes of the Asian Indian candidates, it becomes abundantly clear to everyone.

Sadly, race, ethnicity, and gender issues have become the driving force in the American political arena today, and the eventual winner undoubtedly will be indebted to one or more groups for their hard-earned victory.

George Abraham

E-mail: [email protected]

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