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US: Old vs new in supporting community candidates

September 07, 2010 20:52 IST

In the interaction that followed the discussion on 'Supporting Our Candidates: Stretching the Indian American Dollar,' former Indian-American Leadership Initiative president Jay Chaudhuri lamented the disconnect between the older and younger Indian-American generations.

He also lamented the older generation's apparent indifference toward community congressional candidates and others running for political office, particularly political contributions and other kinds of funding in support of these candidates.

But Shekar Narasimhan, representing the older generation and a sponsor and supporter of IALI, challenged that contention.

"This is not a generational problem — the check-writing thing — because I think plenty of checks have been written," said Narasimhan, the co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's Indo-American Council. "People like to write things for successful things. You know they don't want to write checks and then find out the candidate wasn't viable, didn't work hard, etc."

He was obviously referring to when nearly a decade ago, there was much excitement over three young Indian-American Democratic Congressional candidates, Neil Dhillon, Ram Uppuluri and Peter Mathews. The older Indian-American community raised nearly $2 million for their campaigns, but none of them could even get past the primaries. The community was left severely disappointed, particularly since there had been much hype by the younger generation of community activists over these aspirants.

"So, what IALI is trying to do is position itself," he said, "so that you can gauge not the likelihood of probability of success, but just enough vetting that there is legitimacy to a candidate."

Narasimhan, co-founder and managing partner,  Beekman Advisors, which provides strategic advisory and investment banking services to real estate and financial services companies, and the former managing director of the Prudential Mortgage Capital Company, said, "At the end of the day, you (IALI) have to commit yourself to a very large goal in terms of managing information, getting data, having names on a list and then having absolutely great candidates, with at least one of two Congressman next time. So that you can then put their names on your advisory list and raise money."

Kumar Barve, Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, said he had "always felt that there was a need for an Indian-American political organization that actually did the heavy lifting of establishing a data base and communicating with the members of our community, not just in election cycles, but in off-cycles."

Irene Bueno, partner, Neuva Vista Group and the treasurer of the Asian American Action Fund and its former executive director, said, "Giving to organizations like IALI Political Action Committee and the AAA Fund — that are recognized by the media, by the political leaders — is the best way to leverage our community and our candidates and how our voice gets heard."

Beuno said when Indian Americans or Asian Americans simply write individual checks, "take a picture and walk away, theirs is no leverage. We have done that for many, many years and find out sometimes unfortunately that they take our money for granted."

When then monies are channeled through organizations like IALI and the AAA Fund, Buono added, it can be directed to Indian-American and Asian-American candidates and leveraged for political muscle for the community.

Raghu Devaguptapu, director of the Washington, DC office for the political media firm Adelstein Liston, who has over a decade of experience as a professional political operative working in every region and almost every state in the US, said that to sell the message of the Indian-American candidates, money was imperative.

IALI, he said, "can be an organization that will help the donor identify viability in a campaign, particularly in this election more than others… It's important for people to run in districts where there is a chance to win, and IALI can get them involved in the party apparatus, building a structure to run, organizing a good campaign."

Aziz Haniffa