New York, NY
This year’s special election held on February 2nd for Council District 24th seat was very unique with six of those running were South Asians, a community that has never had one of its members in the Council. It was a tough race as the community in New York City is hundreds of thousands strong, but it has struggled to secure political representation in the city council. It is also a major shift in South Asian community which is known more to support mainstream candidates with larger donations.
The campaigning was tough too, expensive and very competitive. And then it turned negative.
The special election attracted big donors, with Common Sense NYC, Inc., an independent expenditure committee, spending $221,000 in the race. Almost half the money went to adverts and phone calls in support of James Gennaro.
As per reports in local media, another $95,000 was spent on negative ads against Moumita Ahmed, a community organizer who was supported by Senator Bernie Sanders and apparent leading candidate amongst South Asian candidates.
“They exploited people’s fear of the other to divide us when in reality the policies my campaign put out were inclusive of everybody,” Ahmed told Gothamist/WNYC, adding that she saw the efforts by Common Sense NYC as part of a strategy to “instill fear and division among neighbors in District 24”.
Even as huge amount of money was being spent on advertising, Radio Zindagi Network took a principled stand. Sunil Hali, the promoter of the biggest and only South Asian radio network in the US declined a proposal from Common Sense NYC seeking air time to run an advertisement on Election Day, even though they offered to pay an amount worth a month’s ads for just one day. According to Sunil Hali, who is also the publisher on The Indian EYE Newsweekly, he didn’t accept the because there wasn’t enough time to properly vet the advertisement and also because it was negative. “I don’t want to malign the other side,” he said. “But they could do better by running positive ads,” Hali was quoted as saying in a report by Gothamist/WNYC. Radio Zindagi has a huge reach within South Asian community in New York city, and Long Island,
In the report, Common Sense pointed out that all its advertisements are publicly reported with the NYC Campaign Finance Board, as required by law.
As per the results, Genarro has secured about 60% votes and is a certain winner. He will be on the ballot again in June, when there will be a citywide primary for the same Council seat. Ahmed told Gothamist/WNYC that the special election experience has shaken her. “As much as I loved fighting for my community, it’s also a lot to have to put myself out there like that,” she said, adding that she wasn’t sure she would run again.