|Six days after the replacement for the former State Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, was elected, the campaign to succeed his successor began, as elected Democratic Party District Leader and civil rights lawyer Jenifer Rajkumar officially declared her candidacy on Monday evening.
Before a crowd of 100 people at SouthWestNY restaurant, Ms. Rajkumar said, “for too long, corrupt machine politics has pushed our most vulnerable out of mainstream society and into the darkest corners of the city. We’ve been pushed out of apartments that are no longer affordable. Pushed out of higher education and into overcrowded and underfunded schools. Pushed out of the labor pool and into a system that denies workers the dignity of a living wage.”
Ms. Rajkumar is running for the Assembly seat vacated by Mr. Silver after his conviction, in November, on multiple federal corruption charges. This post remained empty for nearly five months, until a special election on April 19 installed Alice Cancel, an elected Democratic Party District Leader from the Lower East Side, in the seat.
But she is slated only to serve out the remainder of Mr. Silver’s term, which ends in January, 2017. Long before that, however, Ms. Cancel will face another Democratic Party primary (in September of this year) and another general election (in November). This effectively means that the campaign to represent the 65th District in the New York State Assembly resumes immediately.
“It’s time to dismantle cronyism and the pay-to-play politics that benefits a small few at the expense of many,” Ms. Rajkumar continued at the Monday evening event. “The way to do that is by bringing community-minded leadership to the State Assembly from our district, and that is what this campaign is about.”
“My very presence here tonight is because of the power of possibility,” she added. “My parents immigrated from India with just $300 and a suitcase, and settled in New York, where I was born and raised.” If Ms. Rajkumar is elected to the Assembly, she will be the first candidate of South Asian background to be elected in New York City, or to the State legislature.
“To honor all that this country gave my family, I decided to dedicate my life to social justice. I became a human rights lawyer and a professor at the City University of New York. But the greatest honor has been to serve my community here at home in Lower Manhattan,” she said.
The field of contenders for the September Democratic primary is already becoming crowded. Yuh Line Niou (who withdrew from the Democratic candidate selection process in February, and ran in the April special election under the banner of the Working Families Party) appears likely to mount a reprise of her recent campaign. And another elected Democratic Party District Leader from the Lower East side, Paul Newell, has also indicated that he will challenge Ms. Cancel in the upcoming primary.
Ms. Rajkumar’s record as a local leader and advocate for causes that many residents value may translate into significant support. She led the successful fight to bring M9 bus service back to Battery Park City, after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority withdrew it. She also figured prominently in the unsuccessful fight to reverse the Battery Park City Authority’s 2015 decision to evict from North Cove Marina the local resident and small businessman who had operated a highly regarded sailing club, camp, and school there for more than a decade, and give the facility to Brookfield Properties, a company with no experience operating yacht harbors, but a long and close relationship with Governor Cuomo. More recently, Ms. Rajkumar has worked closely with the Democracy for Battery Park City campaign, which is seeking representation for residents on the board of the Authority.
“This is the time for the possible,” Ms Rajkumar noted. “It is time to bring out the best in our district and in our ourselves. I cannot wait to get started.”
photos by Zachary Cassell