Borough South Asians honor one of their own

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Amid talk of their political coming of age and heaping plates of Indian food, borough South Asians celebrated the groundbreaking Democratic district leader candidacy of Uma Sengupta at the Villages of India restaurant in Richmond Hill Monday night.

Sengupta, who is running unopposed as the female candidate for district leader in the 25th Assembly district, Part B, will become the first South Asian elected to statewide office Sept. 10.

Endorsed by the Queens Democratic Organization and a laundry list of elected Democrats in Queens, Sengupta’s candidacy has been viewed by South Asians as a sign their political power is finally being recognized.

“The last four or five years we’ve been getting involved in politics,” said Raghbir Singh, president of the Gurudwara Baba Makhan Shah Lobana Sikh temple and the organizer of Monday night’s Atlantic Avenue reception honoring Sengupta. “But this is the first time we will have somebody from our community in office. We had no voice before her. Now we will have a voice.”

Sengupta, who is educational director of the Rainbow Montessori School in Kew Gardens Hills, will lead the district running from southern Whitestone through the Richmond Hill neighborhood that is home to many of the borough’s Sikh and Indo-Caribbean immigrants.

She is campaigning alongside Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) and male district leader candidate Rory Lancman. All are unopposed. Because of redistricting, 80 percent of the district is new turf for McLaughlin and he is relying on Sengupta to help him work with the large number of people of South Asian descent in the district.

Sengupta, who immigrated to the United States from India in 1970, spoke of the needs of Richmond Hill’s South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities, focusing on overcrowded public schools, senior services and the need for English classes for women.

She said she is working with U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) to secure funding for an Indian senior center in Richmond Hill.

“I like to help the community,” she said.

Meeks praised Sengupta, comparing her candidacy to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line.

“It had to be a special person to be first,” he said. “I’m sure when her term is over, they’ll be saying she’s one of the best district leaders in New York City irrespective of her background.”

State Sen. Ada Smith (D-Jamaica), who endorsed Sengupta, said the future district leader will help elected officials better understand the needs of the borough’s South Asians.

“I think it brings a new dimension to the borough politicians and our ability to service our community,” she said. “There are certain things I would not have grown up with and had knowledge of and Uma helps me with those things.”

Meanwhile, Singh, the Sikh temple president, looked forward to generating momentum from Sengupta’s historic candidacy. District leaders typically vote on party endorsements and he hoped Sengupta would open the door for other South Asians to elected office.

“This time we have one person running. The next time we’ll have two or three,” said Singh. “This is just the beginning of us entering politics.”

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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