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‘Roti and roses’: Meet Zohran Mamdani — an Indian-Ugandan who shook up New York’s Assembly race

Pushing for guaranteed housing for all, Indian-Ugandan Zohran Mamdani has defeated Democratic Party incumbent Aravella Simotas in the race for New York’s 36th Assembly District.

July 23, 2020 / 04:02 PM IST
Image: Twitter/@ZohranKMamdani

Image: Twitter/@ZohranKMamdani

Zohran Kwame Mamdani claimed victory over incumbent Aravella Simotas in the Democratic primary for the New York’s 36th Assembly District.

While the result has not been made official by the Board of Elections yet, Simotas conceded her loss on social media.

"I congratulate @ZohranKMamdani for his win and a well-run election. I wish you the best as you begin your legislative career and fight for the 36th AD," Simotas tweeted on July 22.

Simotas is a nine-year incumbent from the seat and had run unopposed in each of her primaries so far.

"We are still at the BoE waiting for them to officially scan the ballots, but the absentee count in our race is over. And based on our internal tally, we finished ahead by over 300 votes - more than enough to avoid a recount & ensure our victory," Mamdani tweeted.


"Socialism won," he added.

New York State is heading for the Assembly election on November 3 – along with the US presidential elections. It is one of the 86 state legislative chambers holding elections this year. Primaries were held by political parties to determine their candidates for Assembly seats. In-person voting happened on June 23, but absentee ballots were counted this week.

Mamdani, who is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), defeated Simotas in the Democratic Party primary for the 36th District seat. The primary for the rival Republican Party was cancelled. This nearly assures Mamdani a seat in the state Assembly.

The result assumes significance as New York State has never had a South Asian representative in the Assembly. It is also significant as Mamdani won despite the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee (DACC) reportedly donating a large sum of $125,000 to Simotas’ re-election campaign.

Who is Zohran?

Mamdani, an Indian-Urgandan, is a Foreclosure Prevention Counselor and a DSA party member.

He was born to noted Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani and international film director Mira Nair, in Kampala, Uganda. But, he was raised in New York since he was 7 years old. His family moved to the United States after being expelled from Uganda in 1972. He has ‘Kwame’ as his middle name, after the first prime minister of Uganda.

Mahmood Mamdani is a political scientist and anthropologist who is also the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University. Nair is famous for her films that include Salaam Bombay!, Vanity Fair, The Namesake and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

He graduated from Bronx Science before becoming a housing counsellor to help immigrant families.

The 28-year-old is now one of the many DSA-backed candidates to have performed well in Western Queens since the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the congressional Representative in 2018.

Pushing for guaranteed housing to all New Yorkers

Mamdani has been advocating housing as a guaranteed human right and has called for universal, state-wide rent control. His election campaign revolves around these promises, which find great resonance in an expensive area like New York.

During her time in the district, Simotas reportedly fought for the rights of survivors of sexual abuse and harassment. She also voted in favour of tenants’ rights legislation in the past. However, Mamdani and his supporters claim that her support was inadequate.

Mamdani’s campaign also pushes for elimination of cash bail and solitary confinement. He is further seeking increased funding for public transport under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

“I am running for State Assembly because it's time to guarantee housing to all New Yorkers as a right, regardless of ability to pay. It's time to desegregate our schools, fully eliminate cash bail, ban solitary confinement, fund and fix the MTA, end workplace discrimination, and fight for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice for the many, not the few,” he told Ballotpedia's Candidate Connection survey earlier in 2020.

Energy to be a public resource and a not a for-profit commodity, Mamdani feels.

Tweaking the classic political slogan "Bread and Roses", Mamdani’s team have been campaigning with ‘#RotiandRoses’.

“And the reason it's roti and roses is because we are both fighting for something universal and something specific, and the specificity is about being an Indian-American, a desi Muslim American running to represent our communities which have been shut out of the conversation for far too long,” he told journalist Lavina Melwani earlier this year.
Moneycontrol News
first published: Jul 23, 2020 04:02 pm

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