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Obama's aide Chopra seeks Lt Gov post in Virginia

July 18, 2012 11:35 IST

Aneesh Chopra, erstwhile Chief Technology Officer to United States President Barack Obama, who quit his White House position nearly six months ago, amidst rumours that he would run for political office, has announced that he will seek the Virginia Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor in 2013.

In a statement from the state capital of Richmond, Chopra said, "We live in a time of profound change. In our communities, our Commonwealth and our country, people are looking for pragmatic solutions that address our biggest problems, create opportunities and improve our lives."

"Ideas matter. And so does action to make our economy work for everyone," he said, and noted, "Since I left my position as US Chief Technology Officer, friends, neighbours, business and community leaders have encouraged me to take action by running for statewide office."

Chopra said, "I'm humbled by their support and pleased to announce that today, after months of reflection, I enthusiastically filed my candidate qualification to seek the Democratic nomination for Lt Governor in 2013."

He noted that "as Virginia's Secretary of Technology, I worked with communities across the Commonwealth to plant the seeds of new ideas to ensure all Virginians have the skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy. We created hands-on high school technology training through Virginia STAR, accelerated efforts to prepare more people without a high school degree for jobs of the future through PluggedInVA, and harnessed the power of mobile technology to support great teaching through our Learning Without Boundaries initiative."

Chopra said, "I remain excited about these efforts and the new opportunities we have to bring Virginians together to solve our biggest challenges in the years ahead. I am committed to seeding innovative ideas that support a quality workforce and educating Virginians throughout their lifetime to strengthen and maintain a state economy that is built to last."

He said, "Over the next several months, our Commonwealth and our country face important choices. I will work hard to help elect President Obama, Governor Tim Kaine (who is running for the US Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Senator Jim Webb), and our exceptional roster of Democratic Congressional candidates this November."

"In addition, in the days, weeks and months ahead," Chopra declared, "I look forward to continuing to listen to Virginians, hearing directly from them about the issues affecting their families and serving as an enthusiastic advocate on their behalf."

Sources told that Chopra had made the decision after forming  an exploratory committee and being assured by the party hierarchy and major Democratic donors and fund-raisers that he could count on their support to raise the millions of dollars required to make such a bid for elected office viable.

When he was appointed by President Obama in May 2009, which necessitated Chopra to move to DC, he however, did not give up his home in Richmond, and it was well known that his love for politics and the fact that he had told several of his well-wishers that he would one day like to run for statewide office, would gnaw at him, sooner than later.

According to the sources, besides the mainstream technology heavyweights comprising CEOs of leading companies in the Northern Virginia Dulles Corridor -- considered the Silicon Valley of Virginia -- who had interacted with Chopra from his days at CTO in the Kaine administration -- who would gladly open their wallets for him, established Indian American heavyweights in the technology sector and major political fund-raisers like Sudhakar Shenoy, chairman and CEO of IMC, Inc, and former  president of the powerful Northern Virginia Technology Council and philanthropist and Democratic Party fund-raiser Ranvir Trehan could also be counted on to back Chopra's political ambitions to the hilt.

Sources said that Chopra after resigning form the White House, had tested the pulse for a possible run at the Virginia Democrats' biggest fund-raising event of the year, when he attended the Jefferson-Jackson dinner on February 11 in Richmond, where nearly 2,000 activists were in  attendance,  including some of the biggest high rollers of the party.

It is here that he had gotten a sense of the support he would have compared to the other Democrats who have also expressed an interest to run for the Lieutenant Governor position like former House Minority Leader Ward L Armstrong, state Senator Ralph S Northam who represents Norfolk -- which boasts of the largest naval base in the world -- and House Assemblyman, Kenneth Cooper Alexander, also of Norfolk.

But with his White House stint under his belt and the close association and friendship he's built up with Kaine and former Virginia Governor and now US Senator Mark Warner -- currently also the co-chair of the India Caucus in the US Senate -- not to mention his vast network of friends and contacts in the tech sector both in Richmond and Northern Virginia, the sources acknowledged that Chopra would be at a distinct advantage over his primary opponents.

Chopra, when he served as Secretary, Technology, in Kaine's cabinet, was the lead player in effectively leveraging technology in government reforms to promote Virginia's innovation agenda and to foster technology-related economic development.

Five years ago, when Kaine, who was to lead the high-powered Virginia trade delegation to India had to cry off at the last minute due to the Virginia Tech tragedy where several students and faculty were massacred by a lone gunman, Chopra led the delegation, which also included Vivek Kundra -- who resigned in June 2011 as the White House Chief Information Officer -- at the time also held a cabinet position in the Virginia government as Assistant Secretary of Trade and Commerce.

It was Chopra who was responsible for recruiting Kundra to the Virginia administration, hardly a week after he himself was appointed as the top technology cabinet official by Governor Kaine.

Before joining Kaine's Administration more than three years ago, Chopra worked as managing director with the Advisory Board Company -- a publicly-traded health care think tank serving nearly 2,500 hospitals and health systems--leading the firm's Financial Leadership Council and the Working Council for Health Plan Executives. He also assisted in the launch of the firm's first business intelligence software solution, Compass.

He is an alumnus of Johns Hopkins University from where he received his bachelor's degree and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, from where he received his master's in public policy.

Chopra, was the co-founder of the Indian American CEO Council in Washington,DC, which has now tied up with The Indus Entrepreneurs and become its DC chapter.

During the transition, after the election of then Senator Obama as president, both Chopra and Kundra served as team leaders in the information and technology development and were responsible for helping to set up many of the websites of the transition.

During the campaign, Chopra, was the warm-up act along with Kansas state legislator Rajiv Goyle in the major Asian American fundraiser in Washington, DC for Obama, with the Indian Americans in the Washington,DC area pushing for and making sure Chopra got a slot to speak at the event which featured Obama himself, as a means to showcase an Indian American who had helped Virginia shine as a technology innovator and job creator.

Shenoy, responding to Chopra's announcement, told, "It's a good move and I believe he will do well, but he has to quickly acquire name recognition because nobody really knows him in Virginia."

"The fact that he was CTO in VA and then at the White House, really makes no difference in terms of name recognition among the public," he argued. "He needs to build up a big public profile -- he needs to go out and meet people and keep pumping hands, and I am glad, he's just starting to do it."

Shenoy acknowledged, "Of course, there is still a lot of time," but he reiterated, "You know, the common person could care less about him being CTO. What is important is name recognition and a public, political profile."

He said that "we've already had a fund-raiser for him, but I told him that you have to wait till the main (presidential) election is over and then we'll talk more about fund-raisers, because nobody is going to be thinking of who's going to be the Lieutenant Governor at this time."

Shenoy also conceded that Chopra's chances would depend a great deal on how Obama fares in Virginia, which has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, which Obama captured in 2008, but could go to GOP president candidate Mitt Romney in November, helped largely by the popular Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, whose name has also been touted as a possible running mate to Romney.

"You bet that will be a major factor on how Aneesh will fare next year. If Obama takes Virginia, obviously he will have a great chance and run on the President's coat-tails, but if he loses Virginia to Romney, it could have an adverse impact," Shenoy said.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC