Reshma Saujani Makes Her Case for Change

Last night, I stopped by the 14th Street Y, where Congressional candidate Reshma Saujani was kicking off a series of “community conversations,” leading up to the September 14th Democratic Primary.  The former Wall Street lawyer taking on Rep. Carolyn Maloney has had no trouble attracting mainstream media attention. But these sorts of events are arguably a lot more important to an insurgent candidate than any article in the New York Times.

The turnout was fairly respectable for a rainy night in August. Around 40 people filed into a stark meeting room at the Y to hear Saujani’s pitch and to ask questions. After the forum, I got the chance to ask her a few additional questions, as she walked back to her apartment on Avenue A, near 4th Street. Having shaken a Maloney campaign operative videotaping her every move, Saujani also ditched the high heels (see today’s New York Times), and we were on our way.

Maloney has represented the 14th Congressional District, including parts of the LES,  for 18 years.  Saujani is trying to tap into voter anger with “business as usual in Washington.” But she knows it will be a big leap for many New Yorkers to send a newcomer – someone who’s never held political office – to the United States Congress.

On the Lower East Side, in particular, she acknowledged there’s a certain amount of skepticism about her professional background. In spite of efforts by Maloney to paint her as “Wall Street’s candidate,” Saujani said she’s confident voters will see through the political mudslinging.  The daughter of political refugees, she emphasizes her middle class upbringing, as well as centrist positions on most issues.

I asked about affordable housing, a topic that did not come up during the forum. Saujani said she is in favor of requiring developers to set aside 20-percent of each residential building for residents who can’t afford market rate rents.  She does not have a policy position on the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, the 7 acre development site adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge.  Saujani supports charter schools as a way of increasing innovation in education.

After weeks of negotiations, Saujani and Maloney have agreed to a single debate, to be held September 7th.  Saujani has made a major issue of her opponent’s rejection of multiple, televised debates.  This week, both campaigns meet to discuss ground rules for their upcoming radio encounter.

In the meantime, Saujani is keeping up a busy schedule of campaign appearances. She’ll be on the Lower East Side again Thursday night. There will be a “meet and greet” at the Roots & Vines coffee shop, 409 Grand Street, at 6pm.

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