In the race for public advocate, Reshma Saujani says she’s the candidate of the underserved, the downtrodden, those who don’t have a strong voice in the political process already.
They may be immigrants, legal or not. They may be women who still face glass ceilings. They may be small business owners, taxed by the city both through actual taxes and excessive fines. They may be young residents of minority communities who do not believe the police are the good guys.
Whoever they are, Saujani pledges she will be there for them if she is elected.
“People are really struggling, and the reason I’ll make the best public advocate is because I’ve struggled too,” she said during a recent interview with the Queens Chronicle editorial board. “I come from a humble background.”
Indeed she does, though her hard work has since propelled her to the top of the educational, financial and political worlds.
She started off the interview by saying she is “my father’s daughter,” and speaking of how her parents were refugees from Uganda when they arrived in the United States. They had been forced out of the African nation by dictator Idi Amin, along with other residents of Indian descent.
Her father, an engineer, worked hard and passed that ethic on to Saujani, who said she has been working since she was 12. And he inspired in her a concern for those at the bottom.
“I remember always seeing my father’s tired face and wanting to make sure no family ever felt like that,” she said.
Working toward that goal is what Saujani wants to do in the public advocate’s office. She’s running for the position against three fellow Democrats: state Sen. Dan Squadron (D-Brooklyn), City Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Brooklyn) and educator Cathy Guerriero.
Though two of her opponents are already in elected office and the other has been racking up the support of one city union after another, Saujani says she is confident she will be elected. She has the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Party, though some elected officials here have backed another candidate.
Saujani boasted of having hundreds of volunteers working her ground campaign and of gathering more signatures on her petitions to run than any of her opponents other than James.
And she noted that she is the only candidate in the race who has experience in the public advocate’s office, having served as deputy public advocate prior to starting her campaign.
“This race is wide, wide, wide open,” she said.
This is Saujani’s second run for public office. In 2010 she challenged Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) in a primary, and lost by a wide margin. But, she said, the race marked the “10 best months of my life.”
If elected this time, Saujani said, she will utilize the Fund for Public Advocacy, a public-private partnership, to serve the people. It was through the fund, where she was executive director, that she saw to it that 10 undocumented young immigrants could go to college.
Along with aiding those at the bottom of the economic spectrum, Saujani says she will serve the interests of women if elected. That’s a big part of what she’s doing now, heading a nonprofit organization called Girls Who Code, which she founded, teaching high-technology skills to young women. The organization has the support of tech luminaries such as Randi Zuckerberg, an executive with Facebook and sister of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.
Saujani spoke of girls whom she had to teach how to use a mouse who just weeks later were writing computer code.
Along with education and social mobility, a top issue Saujani is concerned about is the state of relations between police and minority communities. When a grand jury recently declined to indict a police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager he said he thought was armed, she issued a statement saying he should have been charged. And she stood by the statement when pressed about it during the Chronicle interview.
“I see it as murder,” she said, adding that too many young people are “terrified to walk the streets.” Asked of who, criminals or cops, she said both.
Details of Saujani’s positions on other issues and her biographical information are available at reshmafornewyork.com.