After years of staging unsuccessful campaigns for elected office in Queens, South Asians are finally becoming welcome in the borough’s political corridors of power.
Last week, the Queens County Democratic Party nominated India-native Uma SenGupta, a Kew Gardens Hills educator and activist, as Democratic Leader for the 25th Assembly District, marking the first time the party has endorsed a South Asian candidate. The section of the district she is running to represent includes some of the most heavily South Asian and Indo-Caribbean neighborhoods in Queens, including Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.
“When people first come to the U.S., they have difficulties, but we cannot solve them unless we have a voice in politics,” said SenGupta, who first came to New York in 1970. To date, no other candidates have expressed interest in the post.
SenGupta runs with the support of both the Queens County Democratic Chairman Tom Manton and local state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin. McLaughlin says he encouraged her to run because she is respected in the community as the founder and director of a Montessori school and for her work with nonprofit and religious groups like the Nav Mirmaan Foundation, a South Asian social services group.
Of course, McLaughlin’s support for her could also pay off for him. Redistricting has stretched his district away from his base in Flushing and into an area where South Asian and Indo-Caribbean candidates have been challenging party-backed incumbents for the past several years.
The Queens County Democratic Party made a number of other historic nominations last week, including naming two openly gay candidates for state committeeman and district leader, as well as a slate of Latinos for seats in Corona and Jackson Heights, including Jose Peralta for state assembly.
While everyone agrees these endorsements are historic, what they mean for the future of the old guard Queens Democratic Party in the most diverse county in the country is unclear. “There is a concerted effort to be inclusive, but it’s not happening everywhere,” said political consultant Lois Marbach, pointing to Manton’s support for John Sabini for a new state senate seat in Jackson Heights that some see as a post meant for Latinos. “New Americans are going to be at the table, but I don’t think anyone is going to just step aside.”