Incumbent Democratic District Leader representing Part C of the 65th District in Lower Manhattan Jenifer Rajkumar, has her eyes on a bigger prize – a move to Albany, N.Y. involving a race for the 65th state Assembly district seat currently held by indicted former Speaker of the House Sheldon Silver.
This option came into sharper relief after the young Indian-American was automatically re-elected prior to the Sept. 10 Democratic primary with the ignominious withdrawal July 30 of her opponent Gigi Li. Li’s candidature was thrown out by the City Board of Elections on questions over controversial petition signatures.
Rajkumar showed some of her potential when she garnered 40 percent of the vote in her failed 2013 bid against City Council incumbent Margaret Chin. She has been re-elected to her current post since 2011, when she defeated a long-time Democratic incumbent.
The “insurgent” as local papers described her then, garnered 70 percent of the vote. She may be hoping to repeat that feat at the district level on the growing possibility that Silver, who has pleaded not guilty, may cop a plea deal in the face of the trial which begins Nov. 2.
Or he may go through the trial and be convicted or exonerated. Either way, the possibility of his relinquishing his seat is being heavily speculated upon in Democratic circles. Silver was arrested this January and released on bail, charged with allegations of receiving bribes and kickbacks to the tune of $4 million since 2000.
“If there’s an opportunity to serve the Lower Manhattan community which I love, I will definitely consider it,” Rajkumar told Desi Talk. “I am honored and overwhelmed by the great outpouring of support I have received for the potential candidacy,” she said with regard to the Silver seat.
According to experts and law journals, on average, more than 95 percent of criminal cases end up in plea deals. In the event that Silver, who has occupied the 65th District seat covering all of Lower Manhattan since 1974, decides to make a plea deal, he will have to step down, leaving the seat open. So far however, he vows to run for re-election in Nov. 2016.
But U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara is gunning for Silver and several other elected officials on grounds the corrupt political landscape of New York needs a major overhaul. And the pressure is high on Silver to leave. Several of Silver’s associates have made plea deals including his son-in-law.
If Silver takes the plea deal, it will be incumbent upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to decide if the seat gets filled by a ‘Special Election’ or is subject to an ‘Open Primary.’ In case of a special election, Democrats will vote to choose a nominee and Rajkumar may be counting on the support she has built within the party and in Lower Manhattan over the last five years. She appeared confident she had a good chance in either scenario, a special election or an open seat race.
Some of her reach within the party was evident when she declared her re-election bid for Part C May 3. She was joined on the City Hall steps by some Democratic Party heavyweights including U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, as well as New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and several local leaders.
Maloney had high praise for Rajkumar citing her accomplishments in areas of preventing human trafficking, preserving open spaces and building “a permanent grassroots network” for voicing community priorities. She credited Rajkumar with securing a bus route in Battery Park. “Now that’s a big thing,” Maloney said. “That wasn’t easy to change,” the local paper Downtown Post quoted the Congresswoman saying. Nadler said Rajkumar had “demonstrated time and again her ability and her interest and her willingness and her energy in building diverse coalitions to tackle community problems and to lead.” James, in whose office Rajkumar had worked, indicated the Indian-American had been an integral part of campaigns to address problems in the city’s health care and public school systems.
Rajkumar has around $70,000 in her campaign war chest according to her election finance filings in the period ending July15, with around $60,000 in hand after expenses, an amount that gives her somewhat of a head start if Silver leaves.
A civil rights lawyer at the national law firm Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP, Rajkumar litigates gender discrimination, tenants rights, and whistleblower cases and has some well-known rulings under her belt.
She also serves on the Legal Advisory Council of Sanctuary for Families, which provides services to and advocates for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.
She is a graduate magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania and received the Stanford Law School Public Interest Law Fellowship.