Alice Cancel was sworn in yesterday as a member of the New York State Assembly, but there are already at least six candidates waiting to challenge her in the Democratic Primary this coming fall. Last week, Jenifer Rajkumar became the latest contender to officially enter the race for the 65th Assembly District.
She gathered with supporters at SouthWest NY, a restaurant in Battery Park City, a week ago Monday to make the announcement. Rajkumar has been preparing to run for Sheldon Silver’s seat for many months, so it was not a surprise. But the event offered a preview of the themes she’ll be emphasizing once the campaign is fully underway this summer.
Rajkumar is an attorney at Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP and a district leader on the West Side. In 2013, she ran unsuccessfully against City Council member Margaret Chin, but pulled in more than 40% of the vote. She would be the first Southeast Asian in the Legislature.
Rajkumar said she would be a candidate of change, someone dedicated to reclaiming the assembly seat for the people in the aftermath of the Sheldon Silver corruption scandal. “For too long.” she asserted, “Tammany Hall and corrupt machine politics has pushed our most vulnerable out of mainstream society, into the darkest corners of the city.” Too many people have been pushed out of their homes, out of higher education and out of decent jobs, she argued. “It is time to dismantle cronyism and the pay to play politics that benefits a small few at the expense of many.”
Rajkumar said she would be a proponent of “community-minded leadership.” She said the activism of parents at P.S. 137 on the Lower East Side, who created their own after-school program, inspired her. Rajkumar also highlighted Chinatown housing protests, which she has joined, by a group called the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. She singled out the Grand Street Cooperatives, saying, “I see people gathered here today who have banded together to make sure the co-ops honor their history and the cooperative spirit and honor the principles of transparency.”
Rajkumar rattled off a number of priorities, including: saving the Elzabeth Street Garden from development, making sure repairs are made in NYCHA buildings and pushing for meaningful ethics reform.
Earlier in the evening, Rajkumar was introduced by three local residents. They included Wendy Cheung and Louise Velez, activists with ties to the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Cheung alluded to the fact that there are three Chinese candidates running in the Democratic Primary, but argued that Rajkumar is most deserving of her community’s support. “I think it is very clear to us,” said Cheung, “that Jenifer is standing on the right side of the issues, when those who are supposed to be representing us are not. That is the kind of change that we are ready to see and that we’re ready to organize and mobilize our communities for.”
Other contenders in September are: Yuh-Line Niou, who ran on the Working Families Party line in the recent special election; Paul Newell, a district leader who lives at Masaryk Towers; Community Board 3 Chairperson Gigi Li, local businessman Don Lee and Lower East Side resident Christopher Marte.