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Another Indian American makes it to Obama's team

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | November 14, 2008 12:13 IST
Last Updated: November 14, 2008 12:14 IST

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Less than a week after he was called by Michael Strataumanis, director of Public Liaison and Inter-governmental Affairs on the transition board of President-elect Barack Obama [Images], Nicholas Rathod, 33, has been appointed director of Inter-Governmental Affairs on the Obama transition team.

Rathod, 33, who initially got his appointment to serve as Strataumanis's deputy on the strong recommendation of Preeta Bansal -- who was a senior advisor to the Obama campaign and is now among five key advisors charged with overseeing personnel operations to the new administration -- told, "I am thrilled about the appointment."

"It's such an honour and I am humbled that of all of the people President-elect Obama's team went with, I was chosen for this position," he said. "I believe strongly in his vision of America and so the prospect of being able to shape and carry out his vision is extremely humbling and personal to me."

Rathod, a civil rights attorney and one of the founders of South Asians for Obama and earlier a co-founder of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow with Deepa Iyer, which has now been re-named South Asian Americans Leading Together, recalled: "I think about how just one generation ago, my family was living in dirt huts in Gujarat. They didn't have much of any education and opportunities and now, only a generation later, I am serving in a senior level for the transition of a President of the United States."

"Only in this country is that story even remotely possible, which is why I will work diligently to assure that I serve my country to the best of my abilities," he added.

Rathod said his responsibilities "will include, working with governors and mayors to make sure they are part of the transition process."

"We will be engaging both governors and mayors and talking to them about the issues that are most important to them in the near and long term and how we can work with them moving forward."

Rathod said, "I want to make sure that we build a strong federal state and local partnership at the outset in a way that honours state and local autonomy, while also respecting the role of the federal government."

"Rebuilding this relationship will only serve to provide a smart, strong and efficient government at all levels moving forward," he said.

From March 2007, Rathod, born and raised in Nebraska, has been deputy director and federal counsel in the Washington, DC, office of the governor, state of New York, where he served as the state's primary liaison to the nation's governors.

But, for the past two years, he has been among the indefatigable South Asian American volunteers on the Obama campaign and besides serving as the national outreach director of SAFO, also researched and drafted voter protection briefings for the North Carolina field staff of Obama for America and was a lead attorney in that state's voter protection 'boiler-room.'

Before taking up the position of deputy director and federal counsel in the DC office of the NY Governor, from June 2007 to March 2007, he was a senior manager of state and regional affairs at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank founded by John Podesta, former president Bill Clinton [Images] chief-of-staff and now chairman of the 15-member transition board charged with paving the way for President-elect Obama's take-over of the White House on January 20, which also includes Sonal Shah.

An alumnus of the Nebraska Wesleyan University, from where he received a bachelor of science in political science (class of 1997) and American University's School of Law from where he received his law degree (class of 2000), Rathod, while at Wesleyan started the first NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples) chapter in the state and was its chairman for two years.

And, during that time, he was in the forefront of battling discrimination and racism on college campuses throughout the state.

During his college years, he also founded an organisation called the Rainbow Club on campus which provided students of colour with a forum to interact, network and dialogue on issues and concerns they faced, and it was here that his stirrings as a civil rights activist began.

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