American Kahani: Several South Asian Americans Among New York City and State ‘Power of Diversity: Asian 100’

May 2, 2022

 

New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan, NYC Chief Climate Officer Rohit T. Aggarwala, New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai, Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi, Director of New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency Jainey Bavishi, New York State Sens. Jeremy Cooney and Kevin Thomas, and Assembly members Zohran Mamdani and Jenifer Rajkumar are among several South Asian Americans listed in City & State’s ‘Power of Diversity: Asian 100.’ The list identifies “New York’s Asian American leaders from a wide range of backgrounds who are gaining political power and standing up for their communities,” says the New York City-based political journalism organization.

 

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, 41, a practicing physician, academic, and public servant, took over as the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner in March. Before that he was president and CEO of Fountain House, a national nonprofit that aims to improve health, increase opportunity, and reduce social and economic isolation for people with serious mental illness. He is also an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons.

 

Rohit T. Aggarwala has served as New York City’s top environmental official since late January when Mayor Eric Adams appointed him to a newly created dual role as chief climate officer and commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection. He previously led the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability during former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. Aggarwala, who was also part of the founding team at Sidewalk Labs, a tech startup that is a Google subsidiary, is a former senior urban tech fellow at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech.

 

Bhairavi Desai leads the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 25,000 taxi, corporate and app-based drivers in the city. She played a leading role in last year’s driver-led hunger strike, which ultimately led to a long-sought commitment from City Hall to provide a loan program to resolve the devastating taxi medallion crisis.

 

Meera Joshi is the first South Asian person to serve as New York City deputy mayor for operations. Her prior stints include correctional and law enforcement oversight as the first deputy executive director of the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board. She also served as federal administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and as commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

 

President Joe Biden has nominated Jainey K. Bavishi as assistant secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere in the Department of Commerce. In her current role as director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate Resiliency, where she leads a cross-disciplinary team that prepares the city for the impacts of climate change through science-based analysis, policy, program, and project development, and capacity building

 

Indian Americans Jeremy Cooney and Kevin Thomas are two of three Asian Americans in the state Senate. Cooney, the Rochester area lawmaker, “who was the inaugural chair of the state Senate Cities II Committee, was also instrumental in pushing New York’s legalization of recreational marijuana last year as co-chair of the state Senate Marijuana Task Force for the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus,” says City & State.

 

Kevin Thomas has represented Long Island since 2019 when his election victory made him the first Indian American to serve in the state Senate. As chair of the chamber’s Consumer Protection Committee, he recently introduced a bill that would require mandatory consent from property managers and residents participating in Amazon’s tech-based Keys to Business program. “Thomas, who only narrowly won reelection in 2020, has touted new transportation infrastructure investments coming to Long Island,” notes City & State.

 

Also listed are New York State Assembly members Zohran Mamdani and Jenifer Rajkumar. City & State says “Mamdani’s work as an elected official is informed by his years of activism” A democratic socialist, he participated in a hunger strike last year alongside taxi drivers “that secured a debt relief agreement with City Hall and successfully campaigned to stop a gas power plant from being built in Astoria, Queens,” the website noted.

 

Rajkumar, the first South Asian American woman to serve in the Assembly, chairs the chamber’s Subcommittee on Diversity in Law. Her milestone legislative package granting domestic workers full protection under the state’s human rights law and expanding paid family leave was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul this year. She’s also pushing legislation that would make Diwali a school holiday.

 

Making their way to the list are Shahana Hanif and Indian Shekar Krishnan who are among the six Asian Americans who were sworn in as New York City Council members this year, “marking a major shift as the legislative body previously had only two Asian American members.” Both Krishnan, previously a housing activist and civil rights lawyer, and Hanif, a former staffer in then-City Council Member Brad Lander’s office, made history as the first candidates of South Asian descent to join the City Council. The daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Hanif is also the legislative body’s first female Muslim member.

 

Some of the other South Asian Americans included in the ‘Asian 100’ list are Neal Kwatra, founder and CEO of Metropolitan Public Strategies, “one of New York’s most effective strategic consulting firms”; Ibrahim Khan, Chief of Staff, Office of the New York State Attorney General, who has worked with state Attorney General Letitia James since her days as New York City public advocate; Satish Tripathi, president, University at Buffalo; Sudha Setty, incoming dean at CUNY School of Law; Maf Misbah Uddin, founder and president of Alliance of South Asian American Labor; Rajiv Shah, president, The Rockefeller Foundation; Anita Gundanna, co-executive director of Coalition for Asian American Children and Families; and Vidya Pappachan, president-elect of the South Asian Bar Association of New York.

 

Also part of the change-makers chosen by City & State magazine are Sri Lankan American Jeremy Kohomban, president and CEO, The Children’s Village, a Dobbs Ferry-based organization that serves 17,000 individuals every year, and Harlem Dowling, which is headquartered in Manhattan. He is joined by Pakistani American Ali Chaudhry, Senior Vice President and Chief of Development and Government Relations at AECOM, a multinational engineering firm.; Ali Rashid, president, American Pakistani Advocacy Group which is dedicated to supporting Pakistani New Yorkers through mutual aid and advocacy; Guyanese American Annetta Seecharran, executive director of Chhaya Community Development Corp., a services program geared toward supporting low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers; and Pabitra Benjamin, executive director of Adhikaar, an advocacy group serving Nepali domestic workers.

 

The list includes Nikki Singh, senior manager of Policy and Advocacy at The Sikh Coalition, who oversees the organization’s on-the-ground political activism; Saima Anjam, senior vice president of The Parkside Group; Nayan Parikh, president, Ashnu International, a New York City-based general contracting and construction management company; Sayu Bhojwani, founder, Women’s Democracy Lab; Ali Najmi, Principal at Najmi Law; Bhav Tibrewal, political director of Hotel Trades Council; Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO, Hotel Association of New York City; Kamal Bherwani, CEO of IT service management company GCOM; Sanjay Mody, partner, Windels Marx, who advises clients in infrastructure, real estate and urban economic development; Kaushal Challa, CEO, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, a federally qualified primary care center in New York that primarily serves non-English speaking and low-income residents; S. Mitra Kalita, co-founder and CEO, URL Media, a network of Black and brown community news outlets; Maulin Mehta, New York Director, Regional Plan Association; Kumar Rao, senior director of Policy & Strategy, New York Working Families Party; and Sasha Neha Ahuja, a longtime queer Indian American advocate, and National Director, Strategic Partnerships, Planned Parenthood Federation of America.