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South Asian American Candidates Fare Poorly in New York City Council Special Election

South Asian American Candidates Fare Poorly in New York City Council Special Election

  • Former City Councilman Gennaro Poised to reclaim his old seat in a district that has sizable South Asian American population.

While the official results of the New York City Council District 24 special election — the city’s first election to feature ranked-choice voting, held on Feb. 2 — likely won’t be known for the next couple of weeks as the city’s Board of Elections tallies the votes, six of the eight South Asian candidates contesting do not seem to be faring well.

What is surprising is that District 24 which covers Kew Gardens Hills, Fresh Meadows and Jamaica Estates (including former President Donald Trump’s childhood house) is home to a large South Asian population – almost 11,350 of the 55,243 residents being Asian or Pacific Islander, as reported by

Despite this sizeable South Asian representation, James Gennaro, who previously served as a City Council representative for District 24 for three terms (2002-2013), seems to be on the path to victory, taking an early and commanding lead. 

Votes secured by the other candidates as of now are as follows: community organizer Moumita Ahmed (15.6 percent of the vote), Michael Brown (1.3 percent), psychologist Dr. Neeta Jain (3.1 percent), Dilip Nath (4.4 percent), Mujib Rahman (2.2 percent), restauranteur Deepti Sharma (5 percent) and progressive public interest lawyer Soma Syed (8.5 percent).  

Community organizer Moumita Ahmed, seen here with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Top photo, Ahmed with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has endorsed her candidacy.

Gennaro took an early lead on Feb. 2 night, securing nearly 60 percent of the vote with 98 percent of scanners reported, according to unofficial results from the Board of Elections as of Feb. 3 morning. “I feel humbled that the early returns show that our campaign is likely to prevail in this election,” he said in a statement to Daily News.

The special election was held to fill former Councilman Rory Lancman’s seat, who was term-limited at the end of 2021. Lancman left the Council to take a newly created job under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

Gennaro’s campaign was plagued by rumors of mail-targeting of a socialist candidate in the race. A group backing Gennaro spent $81,817 on mailers casting Ahmed as an anti-Semite whose support of the movement to defund the NYPD makes her “too dangerous for the City Council.” 

Ahmed is known to support progressive causes like slashing the NYPD budget and raising taxes on the wealthy. Ahmed rejected the attacks, launched by a group funded by real estate big shot Stephen Ross of Related Companies. “It’s a smear tactic organized by billionaires to take me down because we pose a threat to them,” she told the Daily News.

A group backing Gennaro spent $81,817 on mailers casting Ahmed as an anti-Semite whose support of the movement to defund the NYPD makes her “too dangerous for the City Council.” 

The mailers targeting Ahmed could be a taste of things to come for other socialists running in the June Democratic primaries for more than 30 open seats. “There is no appetite whatsoever in this district for [Ahmed]s socialist, anti-Semitic philosophy,” Gennaro was reported as saying by Daily News. “What the city needs are at least some common sense moderates,” he added. 

“Governing is an action verb, and the way that most action happens is when we’re all working along the lines of common sense “If I succeed, it means their attack did not matter,” said Ahmed, adding, “If I do not succeed … similar candidates are going to be better equipped.”

Ahmed, who received an endorsement from Senator Bernie Sanders and a handful of other progressive stalwarts, took to Twitter to thank her supporters, though she did not concede the race. “We are a people-powered grassroots campaign that has been speaking to voters in District 24 all day about taking power away from billionaires and instead investing in everyday people in our community,” Ahmed wrote. “We are incredibly proud of the team we built & the energy of our campaign.” 

Gennaro would need over 50percent of the vote to win outright and avoid an instant runoff.

While some polling sites in the district reported seeing high voter turnout, others saw a dismally low number of ballots cast as reported by QNS. Though special elections typically see a comparatively smaller number of voters turnout, the Feb. 2 election followed a massive snowstorm and a spike in COVID-19 infections throughout the city.  

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A handful of the candidates running for the seat called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to postpone the special election On Feb. 1 afternoon, as the nor’easter brought nearly two feet of snow to some parts of Queens. By Feb. 2 night, several candidates stood by their plea.

“[The mayor’s] decision not to postpone actively disenfranchised voters who are not able-bodied and seniors,” said Aaron Siegel, Nath’s campaign manager to QNS. “It’s a shame because New York City is supposed to be a haven for progress.” Rahman also blamed the low voter turnout on the mayor’s decision not to postpone the election because of the snow storm.  “My community failed to vote due to the weather,” he told QNS.

Some candidates, including Jain, reported seeing high turnout, though inconsistently. Jain, who visited nine polling sites throughout the day, told QNS that “a lot of people came out.” “It went well,” Jain said. “Especially looking at the snow and the condition of the roads and streets.”

The city’s first test of ranked-choice voting didn’t appear to be much of a hurdle on Feb. 3, candidates and voters reported. Though the new ballot system, which sees voters rank their top five choices, one through five, instead of choosing just one candidate, didn’t go off without a hitch.  

Should Gennaro receive at least 50 percent of first-choice votes by the end of the first round of ballot counting, he will be declared the winner. If no one tallies enough votes to put them over the 50 percent threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated. Ballots that list the eliminated candidate as their first-choice will be awarded to the voter’s second-choice. The process will continue until a winner is declared. 

Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.

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