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Triumph of Spirit: Immigrant From Rajahmundry and a Rape Victim Usha Reddi Begins Tenure as Kansas State Senator

Triumph of Spirit: Immigrant From Rajahmundry and a Rape Victim Usha Reddi Begins Tenure as Kansas State Senator

  • The Indian American, who represents District 22, replaced longtime Manhattan Senator Tom Hawk who recently announced his retirement.

Indian American Usha Reddi, former commissioner and former mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, began her tenure as state Senator last week. Reddi, who represents District 22, replaced longtime Manhattan Senator Tom Hawk who recently announced his retirement on Jan. 11. She will fill in for the remainder of Hawk’s term, which was set to end after the 2024 election. Her committee assignments will be announced in the coming days.

Reddi and county Democratic chairwoman Katie Allen were the two candidates seeking appointment. Reddi received 23 votes, and Allen trailed behind with 19 votes, as reported by The Mercury.

Reddi was elected to serve on the Manhattan City Commission in April 2013 and was re-elected in 2017 to a four-year term of office. She served as mayor in 2016-2017 and in 2020. Previously, she was an educator in Manhattan-Ogden public schools, where she served a term as president of their National Education Association chapter. 

She will step down from the Manhattan City Commission. She previously had told The Mercury she hoped to hold both positions if selected as Hawk’s replacement. “I didn’t want there to be any doubt as to my commitment to state Senate District 22,” she said when asked about why she changed her mind.

Reddi married Brian Neuhoff, who works at Kansas State University, five years ago after her divorce from her previous husband.

In 2020, Reddi announced her bid to run for a U.S. Senate seat to represent Kansas. However, she suspended her campaign before the Aug. 4 Democratic primary. In a statement, posted on Ballotpedia, she said she chose to serve as mayor instead of pursuing a higher office. 

“These unprecedented times of the coronavirus pandemic require that my work as the mayor of Manhattan be my first and only priority.” She said her “attention must continue to be focused on the people, organizations, and businesses of Manhattan and our region. Participating in our joint response to the pandemic is the most important work of my life. COVID-19 meetings and calls will continue to demand 100% of my focus for the foreseeable future. Working together, we will beat this virus and re-make our vibrant community and economy.”

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The 57-year-old has lived in the United States since 1973 when her family immigrated from Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh. She became a citizen in 1987 and moved to Manhattan in 1992, where she raised her three children. She decided to become a public school teacher after years of volunteering in the public schools that her children attended. She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and elementary education and a Master’s degree in educational leadership from Kansas State University.

Reddi married Brian Neuhoff, who works at Kansas State University, five years ago after her divorce from her previous husband.

When Reddi was mulling a Senate run in 2019, she revealed in a radio interview that she was molested as a child by her father in Ohio. She told News Radio KMAN that she had been raped and sexually assaulted by her father Venkata Yeleti between 1975 and 1977, during her childhood and adolescence. 

That July, Yeleti, 76, pleaded guilty in a Virginia court to raping his daughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for each of the two counts of rape. “Everything I’ve ever done in my life was to put this behind me and to move forward. People never thought of me as a victim of sorts in this instance, but that is the case. This happened to me between the ages of 10 and 16,” Reddi told KMAN in the interview.

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