Tag Archives: Mayor

Dr. Sadaf Jaffer's swearing-in for her first term as Mayor (Image provided by Fatima Naqvi)

Dr. Sadaf Jaffer is the First Muslim Woman to Serve as Mayor in the US

Dr. Sadaf Jaffer became the first South Asian woman to serve as mayor of a municipality in New Jersey, and the first Muslim woman to serve as a mayor of a municipality in the United States. Jaffer is a Postdoctoral Research Associate of South Asian Studies at Princeton University where she teaches courses on South Asian, Islamic, and Asian American studies. She got her start in politics when she ran for local office in 2017 and won, becoming the first and only Democrat on the local government in Montgomery, NJ, in many years. In the following year, the Democratic Party won two more seats and Jaffer became the Mayor. She is now running for New Jersey State Assembly in Legislative District 16. 

Mayor Sadaf F. Jaffar (Image provided by Fatima Naqvi)

Can you tell me a little bit about your background: where you were born and raised? 

SJ: I was born and raised in Chicago. My parents had immigrated from Pakistan and Yemen. I went to college in Washington D.C. at Georgetown University, and then I lived in India for two years studying Urdu in Lucknow. I did a Ph.D. at Harvard University in South Asian Studies. Later, I moved to New Jersey after I met my husband and we both ended up getting a position at Princeton University. We have a 6-year-old daughter. 

As a South Asian Muslim woman in politics who belongs to an immigrant family, how do you define your identity? How has that translated into your work as Mayor so far? 

SJ: My goal is to try to make a positive change and be a caring member of my family and my community. I want to advocate for people to have the rights that they deserve. That drives me in all of the work that I do, whether it’s teaching my students about Islam in South Asia or South Asian American literature and film; leading my community during a pandemic; leading them by having conversations and discussions about racial injustice, and how we can address it; or by serving as a candidate and trying to learn about what people in my district want. I would definitely say that my South Asian identity is very important to me and it manifests itself in lots of different ways. A really important thing to me is that we see South Asian American culture as an integral part of American culture – that there isn’t necessarily a dichotomy. If I want to wear a Saari to my swearing-in – which is what I did for my second term as mayor – that should just be me representing a part of my identity that is important to me. 

You recently completed two terms as mayor of Montgomery Township, New Jersey. What was it that made you want to get into politics? 

SJ: I had considered myself an activist for many years and specifically as someone who cared deeply about human rights issues. Over time, I started to feel like advocacy was having its limits. I felt like ultimately the elected officials were making the decisions that they thought were the right ones. That’s when I started thinking that I should advocate for people who shared my values to be in those elected roles, or that I should eventually run myself.

I participated in a candidate training program for women from the Democratic Party who are interested in running for office, called Emerge New Jersey. It was through that program that I learned about the nitty-gritty of connecting with the State Party, County Party, and the Municipal Party. After that, I was campaigning for someone who was running for Congress when I was asked to run for office. In Emerge, I learned that the United States ranked 75th in the world in terms of women’s representation in politics and if I want other women to participate then I believed that I should also step up and do it myself. Ultimately, it was because I wanted to see the values that I hold dear reflected in the policies of my government. 

What has your experience as a representational figure in politics been like so far? Has it been what you expected it to be? 

SJ: I don’t think I really knew what to expect. Being thrust into a role as a representational figure, I definitely feel a sense of responsibility to speak to the broader community, and to be the example that there’s such a hunger to see political engagement from our communities. It mostly comes down to mentoring and advising people on how to get involved – that is also one of the reasons why I got into politics. I had never known anyone who had run for office before. I want to open up the process to more people. I want them to feel empowered, so I’m very happy to help encourage individuals from diverse communities to get involved in the political process. I see that as a responsibility that I am very proud to fulfill. 

You are now seeking a Democratic nomination for the NJ General Assembly. If elected, what are some key issues you plan to focus on as a legislator? 

SJ: My platform is basically focused on prosperity and justice for all. I believe that the government can be a source of good. The first thing that I would want to focus on is investing in green jobs and sustainable recovery. Our economy has shifted dramatically over the course of the pandemic and now we have an opportunity, as we get things restarted, to do so in a sustainable manner. 

The second would be civil and human rights which is a passion of mine and is really why I got involved in activism to begin with. There are a lot of things that can be put in place to ensure that we are diversifying our police department; that we’re acknowledging indigenous rights; that we are providing maternal healthcare. Those are some of the things that I would be very passionate about advocating for when I get into the State Assembly. 

Lastly, what is the one factor you feel is necessary for anyone to run and get elected to office? 

SJ: Go for it. Women and minorities win elections at the same rate as white men, but we just don’t run as often. So, you’ll just have to jump in and you’ll learn as you go. If you’re interested in politics, I would say the best thing for you to do is to connect with your party and start campaigning for candidates you believe in. Through their experience, you will learn. There is a hunger and a need for people with new perspectives, dynamics, ideas, and a strong work ethic. 


Fatima Naqvi is a Rutgers University graduate who currently works as a Legislative Liaison at the New Jersey Department of Education.


 

Former Mayor Speaks Against Measure RR

The CEO and board of directors of Caltrain are doing a major “dis-service” to the residents of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties with Measure RR.

Their proposal to address and remedy the Caltrain loss of revenue problem is to place on the backs of the total population another tax initiative, while only a limited few will directly benefit if this measure passes.

One, the tax is regressive and negatively impacts the families with household incomes of $50,000 or less, which is more than two-thirds of families in these 3 counties, significantly harder than the families who are directly benefiting from this measure passing.

Remember Caltrain ridership, 80% of those individuals have a household income greater than $200,000.

Two, the measure is asking the public to commit to this tax for 30 years…..Caltrain, is dying, a dinosaur, even before the pandemic, ridership has been steadily decreasing….now after the pandemic, the world has changed….we work from home, our bay area’s companies will never return to employment levels pre-pandemic, and ridership will never approach yesterday’s numbers.  

The bottom line is, the board and CEO have failed their fiduciary responsibility……they should have foreseen this coming at least 5 years ago ……they did not and did nothing…now with their backs up against the wall, they offer a remedy that lacks any strategic thought, does not consider today’s technology direction, no consideration for the existing and future work patterns,  and chose to ignore the impact another tax has on the lowest wage earners, to name a few. One question I have is why no reduction in headcount, salary expense,  or their fully paid pensions and medical benefits?

We should not suck out of the public another $100,000 million annually,  taxes to provide a service for less than 1% of the population….let me remind you that 1% are the wealthy 1%……and again,  make this law for 30 years!  This board and CEO have not demonstrated they are worthy stewards the public can trust….and the measure has no allowance for independent oversight and reporting back to the public.

Think of the impact these tax dollars could have on improving our school, housing, health care, youth employment training, and programs, etc.

Before I close, let me address the key selling point of this Measure…….”it will result in less traffic on our freeways”.  An empathic No, Caltrain’s impact on reducing traffic congestion is and will be very minimal, less than a 1% reduction may be achieved if this measure passes. It is expensive to ride and inconvenient, for the majority of us to even consider.

In closing, the proponents of this measure were also not transparent in the pre-work/surveys that they used to gauge the level of public support…they did not inform the public they were seeking approval of a measure that will be the law for the next 30 years.  Why place this tax on the backs of our children?

I hereby humbly request the board to have the moral compass to withdraw this request to the public.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Lawrence

Former Mayor, Foster City


Jim Lawrence is the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Expertus Inc. A change agent by definition, is active in his community, having served as Mayor of the city of Foster City, appointed to numerous county & Statewide boards and committees, and elected to the board of several nonprofit organizations. 

Featured image found here and license here.

Golden Knights Debate Their Way Through the Pandemic

As more summer programs were being canceled, I saw there was a need for keeping students engaged and stimulating their creativity. Being a high school student myself, I could only imagine that those younger than me must be struggling. With COVID-19 bringing in a new distance learning environment and a summer lockdown for students, a group of eight middle school students (Milpitas Golden Knights) with my active volunteer guidance came up with a creative plan to spend the summer holidays safely indoors and socially connected – engaging in Public Forum Debate.

How did this idea begin?  

Eight 6th grade Merryhill school students showed interest in practicing and learning techniques for public forum debate.  With my assistance and leadership as the debate Advisor and judge, the debate club was formed and sessions were organized.  I helped design the debate classes and practice sessions every week for 12 weeks with the idea to keep the students connected, stay mentally healthy, and keep connected during challenging times.

About the Debate Sessions

With dedication, we started to practice from the end of May and the kids continued to learn and acquire the skill that would assist them through middle school. Every week, the team gathered in a virtual meeting session and reviewed through debate materials/rules, watched debate videos, and practiced speeches.  The program was executed as four teams with two members in each team. For every debate topic, the team members were regrouped to support each other. The debate team independently handled work sessions between themselves during the week to prepare for the debate and keep connected. This helped the students to learn and practice teamwork. At the end of each debate, the group voted for the next debate title and continued to challenge themselves. In addition to debate sessions and in the spirit of rewarding and motivating the students, the program was expanded to include a general knowledge quiz, which covered topics like science, history, geography, politics, and sport, at the end of each debate session.

Reward

By the end of the debate session, the kids were able to meet at a local park to celebrate their achievements, while social distancing. It was their first time meeting in real life since the start of the summer and the kids enjoyed catching up. They were presented with trophies and medals to congratulate them on their progress and improvement in debating. Team pictures were taken and speeches were given to thank everyone for their participation in the program.

Presenting to the Mayor of Milpitas

The final debate session was attended by the Principal of MerryHill School, Ms. Quinn Letan who recognized the effort put together by the students.  The students were also given the opportunity to present the program to Mayor Richard Tran of Milpitas. In the end, the credit really goes towards all students of this program – Nalika, Diya, Saatvika, Aadya, Sohan, Adithya, Hrithvik, and Katthir. 

If you would like your child to join the debate team, contact sundramr@hotmail.com for more info!


Meghaa Ravichandran is a high school sophomore at Notre Dame High School is the leader and coach for the Milpitas Golden Knights team.

SF Mayoral Candidate Angela Alioto Talks to India Currents

Angela Alioto, mayoral candidate, was born and raised in San Francisco. Her parents are former San Francisco Mayor Joseph L. Alioto and Angelina Genaro Alioto. During her service on the Board of Supervisors, Angela was elected President of the Board. She served as Vice-Chair of the Board’s Finance Committee, Chair of the Health, Public Safety and Environment Committee, and Chair of the Select Committee on Municipal Public Power, a committee she created as President. On January 8, 1997, Alioto left the Board of Supervisors due to term limits.

Her campaign reached out to India Currents and we the opportunity to talk to her one on one. Here is a transcript of the interview:

Vandana Kumar (VK):  I publish India Currents magazine. We’ve been around for thirty-two years. India Currents is devoted to the exploration of Indian culture as it exists in the United States, as well all issues of interest to the Indian community. Also on this call is my partner, Vijay Rajvaidya.

Vijay Rajvaidya (VR): Angela, hi. I am a thirty-five year tech veteran from the Bay Area. I joined India Currents five years ago to actively engage with the Indian community.

Angela Alioto (AA): Hello.

VK: One of the things that interested me was that you have really deep ties to San Francisco. You were born here, raised here, educated here, you’ve done years of public service here. Your father was the mayor of San Francisco. So, you must have been influenced by his service. Can you tell us of any incident that may have left an indelible mark on you or something that prompted you down this same path of public service?

AA: I think that the fact that my father was a coalition builder really impressed me in my youth. One of the most important things that stands out to me is when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, we were there with the black Baptist ministers and the other cultures and they all stood together on the steps of city hall and made it very clear to the public that wanted to riot that it was much better to do a peaceful march. So as a consequence of the coalition building that my father did with different communities, we were the only city that did not riot. I think that’s one of the best talents any mayor can have: being able to put communities together so they work for the betterment of the people. That is absolutely essential and that is something that is totally missing today in today’s government.

VR: That’s true.

VK: What year was this?

AA: 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr, was assassinated. Two months later Bobby Kennedy was… those were very tumultuous times.

VR: Angela, I have a question a little bit more to the ground here. I was looking at the last Census numbers and according to the 2010 Census one-third of the population in San Francisco is Asian and there is a growing population of Indian-Americans there, largely young, highly educated, second-generation Indians who have made San Francisco their home. Their main concern is adequate and affordable housing. Can you tell them how this is going to happen in your administration? In particular, if you could elaborate on your idea of prioritizing “density over raising height limits?”

AA: Well, first of all, affordable housing is the top priority problem in San Francisco. And it’s because we have so many new employees that have come to San Francisco who can afford higher prices and, as a consequence, so many people were worked out of the available housing that we have.

VR: Correct.

AA: The only way we’re going to be able to do anything about this affordable housing crisis in San Francisco is by building more density. We absolutely need to build the 5,000 units that Mayor Ed Lee suggested and along with that we have 17,000 units that are in the pipeline. But as far as it ever being really affordable, depending upon someone’s salary, that’s going to be the problem of the future, trying to figure out what is affordable. Right now, they’re calling affordable housing for any one project that’s done, let’s say they do 25 percent or 30 percent affordable housing, well affordable housing is $130,000 a year salary. That’s not affordable for a lot of people.

VR: Correct.

AA: The question is where are the people who make $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 where are they going to live? I believe that you have to do dedicated buildings and developments for them. It’s just terrible what’s happened in San Francisco. We have young kids that are making so much money that the price of an apartment, it goes up three to four thousand dollars for a single bedroom, I mean, people can’t afford that.

VK: That is very true. You know, in the last few weeks, there has been much conversation around the issue of San Francisco as a sanctuary city. Can you explain to our readers what is different about your position on this versus the other candidates and why.

AA: I am very surprised that the other candidates came out against me on this. I wrote the original sanctuary city law. I never included dangerous felons. So, in 2016, they amended it and they added dangerous felons. So what my ordinance does is it takes the protection of the sanctuary law away from dangerous felons. In other words, if you’re going to kill somebody, if you’re going to rape somebody, if you’re…going to create mayhem, then you are not going to be covered by San Francisco’s sanctuary law, as you are not covered in the State of California. So, I was very surprised to see my opponents come out against it. Why they want to protect dangerous felons I do not understand.

VR: Yes, that can be of quite a bit of interest to a younger generation as I believe because they also take a certain kind of pride in this position. It’s a good thing to explain the difference and we’ll try to do that. I am going to move onto a different subject matter here.

You know, the Indian-American community is now getting involved in the political process all over the country, as a matter of fact. Currently, we have five Indian-Americans serving in the U.S. Congress. And, this year alone, eighty-eight people are running for various public offices and yet there is no Indian-American county supervisor. You have been one, so I thought I would ask you, how does one become a county supervisor?

AA: Well, first of all, San Francisco is a city and county, so we don’t have a city council, so you’d be a supervisor for the whole city. What one has to do is get involved with the grassroots organizations. Get involved. Go out and register people to vote. Go out and get involved in the community and help with the homeless. Help with the drug abuse situation and the dirty streets. You have to organize and get involved and then put your name on the ballot and run in a district. It should be absolutely foreseeable that a person of Indian descent would be able to be able to be a supervisor in San Francisco. I know that as mayor of San Francisco I will appoint a large diversity of supervisors when an opening comes because I totally believe in the cultural diversity of our city.

VR: That would be of great interest to our readers, yes.

VK: So, Angela, you have run for mayor twice before, but not succeeded.

AA: I just missed it in 2010. I just missed it.

VK: So, what made you decide to run again? I imagine it was not an easy decision?

AA: No, as a matter of fact I have a wonderful life. I am a civil rights trial lawyer, I have four children and five grandchildren, I live in Italy during the summer. I have a wonderful, wonderful life.

I decided to run for mayor because first of all I know how to take care of the situation with our homeless population and it’s so totally out of control that I can only imagine it getting worse and worse and worse. And I know I am the one person that has the experience to actually get the job done. As you can see with all the tent cities throughout the city, you desperately need someone who knows what they’re doing. Same goes for the drug and alcohol abuse that’s occurring in our city, and our dirty streets. That’s why I decided to get into the race. There’s no question homelessness was the key for me.

VR: You touched on homelessness, so that prompts me to ask you this: you know this is related to the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco. This statistic was interesting to me – a minimum wage worker would have to work 4.7 or approximately 5 full time jobs to be able to rent a two-bedroom apartment. San Francisco has several thousand homeless residents despite extensive efforts by the city government to address this issue.

AA: Right.

VR: And you know, this thing is still there. I have read your position and little bit on the homelessness, how you want to do it, but can you elaborate a little more to address this, because this impacts people living over there and also the tourists. It directly affects the tourists also.

AA: I’m sorry, that question is, the first one is about being able to afford to live here?*

VR: How do you plan to address homelessness?

AA: My homeless plan is phenomenal. My homeless plan worked. From 2004 to 2012, we housed more than 4,600 chronically homeless people. It absolutely worked. And they’re still in those apartments. But when things started changing in 2012 and they moved the homeless buildings to affordable housing buildings and then they moved the money around, that’s when we started picking people off the street and we had nowhere to take them. So, that’s the major problem. My plan is on the city website. Just put in the key word “Alioto” or “chronic homelessness”. It’s there, it’s extremely extensive and it absolutely works. It’s a huge success story. I have no idea why they stopped, no idea.

VR: Well, that’s why they have to elect you again, so you can…

AA: I’m telling you, I know how to do it.

VR: Yes…

AA: I’ll do it again, you’re absolutely right. It’s a matter of taking people off the street, which in 78 hours you know exactly where to put them because you can tell what kind of category they go in, whether it’s drug abuse, substance abuse, or whether it’s mental health, or whether it’s just someone who couldn’t pay the rent for two months and is down on their luck.

VR: Yes, that’s right.

AA: There are very different types of homeless people. And you have to decide what type they are before you start moving them.

VR: I was discussing exactly this with Vandana this morning!  Homeless people, they have to spend full-time of the day to just satisfy their basic needs, and it doesn’t leave them any time to think about how to get out of this situation.

AA: Right, right…

VR: You know, the basic requirements can be focused somehow, for taking care of basic needs…

I think being homeless is like…a full-time job.

AA: Oh, it absolutely is.

VK: Angela, so are you saying that the plan you had implemented and suggested earlier as something that worked and then they stopped it? Who stopped it?

AA: The city. When tech started moving into town, the city stopped everything we were doing. And moved the money and moved the buildings.

VR: Okay, we hope we can get control of this problem soon because it’s a beautiful city.

AA: I think working together we can, because, you know, you said something nobody ever says, and that is homeless people are working all day long just to survive, not to get out of homelessness. That’s an excellent observation.

VR: That’s true. That’s why I was telling if we could provide them with basic facilities like where to take showers or where to do things, that itself will leave some time so that they don’t have run around and look for the place…

AA: Right, right, right…

VK: People say, “get off the street, get a job.” Well…

VR: How do you get a job? You don’t have time to look for that.

AA: Right…

VR: So coming to the end, I have a kind of capping question. Many candidates for public offices have made special efforts to connect with our community, the Indian-American community, by going to their events, engaging with them culturally and socially, so I was going to ask you, do you have any specific message for our readers and do you have any plans to go and engage with this community in San Francisco?

AA: Oh, absolutely I do. First of all, I’m a third generation San Franciscan. San Francisco has always been an iconic cultural city. We need to cultivate all of our different cultures. So, I have actively, throughout my life, been going to the individual cultures to see how we can get them involved in government, to see how their small businesses are, to see how the quality of life is for them in San Francisco. I have always been actively involved in the Indian community in San Francisco, going back years and years and years. The Indian community has always been very supportive of me, especially the restaurant businesses.

VR: Yes.

AA: Always, always wonderful, wonderful. And, of course, we have commissioners. We have many Indian commissioners, not enough, but we have many that have been there for quite awhile that are my very, very good friends, so I have always interacted with the Indian community and I will do that as mayor…

VR and VK: Very good to know that.

VK: My sons actually live in San Francisco and I was asking them, “Are you going to vote?” Of course, they are my kids, so they are registered to vote, but when I mentioned your name, they said “well, there’s a restaurant by that name, …”

AA: Yes, that’s my cousin’s. Those are my rich cousins.

VK and VR: [laughter]

VK: So, that’s what they knew! … but I think it’s worth you doing an outreach to a lot of younger demographic as well.

AA: Absolutely. I hope your sons vote for me. It’s very important.

VK: I will tell them.

AA: This is a very crucial election. Crucial. All throughout the last five months, the other opponents have been saying they wouldn’t take money from outside sources, and now, the last three days they’ve all taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside sources. It’s just really been a terrible experience of dishonesty.

VK: What do you think is the difference between you (the candidates)? I see London Breed as polling higher, but we know a thing or two about polls!  In what way has your campaign been different from hers?

AA: I’m a very people person. I haven’t missed one panel, one debate, one interview. I have been everywhere. London is a very nice person, but she hasn’t participated very much in the election because she has so much money.

She has millions of dollars, over two million dollars they’re spending. Our campaign doesn’t have that. As a matter of fact, we didn’t get the public money that they all got. But having said that, we’re very, very different and I think you can see that in our platforms.

VK: Okay, sounds great. Thank you for spending this time with us.

AA: Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. Thank you.