Jennifer Rajkumar features in the City & State Magazine’s list of Women taking CenterStage in NY


Our Bureau

New York, NY

According to the magazine, What all of this year’s Above & Beyond: Women honorees have in common is a passion for improving New York, the place they now call home. They are also role models for the next generation of politicians, nonprofit leaders, attorneys and cultural influencers. That’s because – whether they work in fields that have been dominated by women like nursing or less traditional sectors like trucking – this cohort is breaking old boundaries in the C-suite and racking up myriad firsts. This year’s featured honoree is Assembly Member Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian woman elected to state office in New York – and the only elected official on this year’s list.

Becoming the first South Asian woman elected to state office in New York – she has served in the Assembly since 2021 – was a victory not only for Rajkumar, but for her parents and New York’s burgeoning Asian community. “I represent the district in south Queens where my family started in America,” she says, “the launching pad for so many South Asian immigrant families like mine.”

Mindful of her responsibility, Rajkumar led a successful effort to make Diwali a state school holiday and to establish New York’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Commission. She also sponsored a measure incorporating domestic workers – who are overwhelmingly immigrants of color – into the state’s human rights law.

A politician since middle school, Rajkumar got her start leading a voting rights campaign to enfranchise fifth-graders. When she got her driver’s license at 17, she drove straight to Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign office to volunteer.

Later, as a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Rajkumar led a campus women’s group and tutored low-income Philadelphia women. Believing that “lawyers save the world,” she earned a degree from Stanford Law School – then won her first case as an attorney, a workplace discrimination suit on behalf of 5,000 women. “I realized that to really make a difference, you need power,” Rajkumar says. “So I went into politics.”

Her first role was as a lower Manhattan district leader. After three terms, Rajkumar expanded her sphere of influence as then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state director of immigrant affairs, spearheading a first-in-the-nation, $31 million public-private partnership to provide immigrants with legal defense.

Now settled back into her home borough, Rajkumar has taught political science to the next generation at Lehman College. She was also a senior adviser for the transition team of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who remains an influential ally. On weekends, she runs the length of her district, from Glendale to Richmond Hill, stopping only for Indian tea.

The magazine mentions that running is a rare escape from the political grind for Rajkumar. After all, this is the woman who secured her first district seat by defeating a three-decade incumbent with 70% of the vote – and then, in 2020, won her Assembly race with record district turnout. “I started by standing on my street corner, greeting my neighbors one by one,” she says. “In my heart, I’ll always be a scrappy, insurgent upstart.”

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