By Ela Dutt
Declared a “Local Heroine’ by the Battery Park paper The Broadsheet, and named a “Rising Star” in New York by City & State news outlet, Jenifer Rajkumar, 33, a civil rights attorney, is continuing her bid for the state Assembly from the 65th District. The seat opened up when former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stepped down after his conviction.
Rajkumar is optimistic despite the Democratic County Committee in the 65th Assembly District overwhelmingly endorsing someone else for the Special Election primary scheduled for April 19.
The Indian-American has been an elected Democratic Leader since 2011 and has deep roots in the area, which she emphasized would carry her through. At the fundraiser March 7, held in Jing Fong restaurant, Chinatown’s largest unionized eatery, activists and supporters, felt the same. Organizers estimate there were close to 150 attendees at Jing Fong. It was a multicultural crowd that represented different economic strata and included a Council member, long-time residents and advocates for workers rights, as well as leaders of local initiatives on which Rajkumar has worked.
Among those present were City Councilman Rafael Espinal; Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, known for his work with victims of 9/11; Abhishek Rathore, president of NetIP, Network of Indian Professionals; Wendy Cheung, long-time resident of public housing in Lower East Side and a workers’ rights advocate in Chinatown; Maggie Martinez, also a leader and long-time resident of La Guardia public housing complex; and General Sid Baumgarten, a Lower West Side Battery Park activist.
Rajkumar has been endorsed by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club named after the well-known gay rights advocate. Last December, a coalition of national women’s groups endorsed Rajkumar, including the Women’s Campaign Fund. A few weeks ago, a coalition of Latino leaders in the Lower East Side endorsed her as well.
But 7 Democrats are in the running and Rajkumar has her work cut out for her. Democratic District Leader Alice Cancel, was overwhelmingly endorsed in February by the Democratic County Committee of the 65th District, where Rajkumar trailed 3rd in the vote count. Others include Working Families Party candidate Yuh-Line Niou, chief of staff to Queens Assemblyman Ron Kim, who has been endorsed by the chairman of the state Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus; District Leader Paul Newell; and a local community board chairwoman Gigi Li.
Rajkumar says regardless of the endorsements others have received, it is an open primary and “I have a very good shot with a very strong base and lots of experience in the District.”
At the March 7 meeting, Councilman Espinal said he believed in Rajkumar and that she was well-known all over the city and was a very hard worker.
Rajkumar, who spoke after several others, dwelled on the theme “This is the time for the possible,” and noted how she broke through naysayers predictions in the past and would do so again come September. Closely involved with education and affordable housing issues in Lower Manhattan, Rajkumar thinks she has the grassroots support to catapult her to a win, she told Desi Talk. “It’s a grassroots strategy. We are going to take it to every voter. And a lot of volunteers from across the district (are going door-to-door),” she said. “The key is to build a district-wide coalition of different ethnicities, incomes, neighborhoods – that will make the campaign strong.” The March 7 gathering was made up of just such a crowd from “all corners” of Lower Manhattan, Rajkumar said.