Photos: 29-year-old Indian American elected to New Jersey assembly
Indian Americans have contributed to make NJ better in every aspect. I hope that the Indians and the South Asian Diaspora continue to involve themselves in public life, says Raj Mukherji. Suman Guha Mozumder reports.
Bengalis have traditionally excelled in different fields in the United States, but politics is not one of them.
Raj Mukherji broke that tradition, as the 29-year-old Kolkata-born was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly by a 20-point margin along with Assembly running mate Carmelo Garcia.
Mukherji, presently chairman of the Jersey City Housing Authority and a former Deputy Mayor of Jersey City, who was a software company CEO, and former Sergeant in the US Marine Corps Reserve, is the first-ever Bengali state legislator in the United States and the first South Asian legislator from HudsonCounty.
“I am incredibly humbled that the voters have placed their confidence in me and I am going to work very hard to prove to them that I am worthy of their trust,” said Mukherji.
“My priority first and foremost is to work with the constituents and make sure that I am advocating for them to make sure that their problems are heard and resolved. I want to be as assessable as possible. I want to be directly accessible to my constituents, so whenever they need me or need the resources of my office they can access me or my staff.”
“And then once I am assigned to committees, I am hoping that I can work job creation, education, quality of life and the budget. As a champion of middle class the working families I want to improve the lives of NJ's residents while trying to make the state a little more affordable,” Mukherji said after the victory.
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Image: Democratic party nominee Raj Mukherji who won the State Assembly polls in New Jersey
'Impact of Hurricane Sandy reinvigorated my passion for public service'
It was not that Mukherji always wanted to be a politician, although he has always loved public service. In fact, what changed his attitude was last year’s Sandy Hurricane that devastated parts of New Jersey and New York. He said in an earlier interview that witnessing the impact of Hurricane Sandy on his city and county was unlike anything he had ever experienced. “This experience strengthened my love for my neighbours and community and reinvigorated my passion for public service,” he said.
Mukherji, who dedicated his victory in Primary in June this year to his father a few months after he died in Kolkata, turned a bit emotional. “Last night my mom, who has also been campaigning with me, was by my side during the victory celebration. I wish my dad could be there too. But I am sure he is watching from somewhere above. I will not let him down in my life,” Mukherji said alluding to his father’s wishes for his son’s life of dedicated public service.
At 19, Mukherji confounded a public affairs business that he grew into the state’s third largest lawyer-lobbying firm. While learning the inner workings of the State House, he became fascinated by the policymaking and legislative processes in Trenton.
He said earlier before the Primary that advocating for worthy causes before the Legislature gave him a deep appreciation for the process and a desire to work for laudable goals from inside the system. “If I win this election, I’ll have that opportunity. It will involve an incredible pay cut, but the excitement and opportunity to make a difference will be worth the sacrifice,’ Mukherji said.
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Image: Raj Mukherji with his mother during the victory celebration
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
'Want to see more Indian-American and South Asian faces in New Jersey government'
At 24, Mukherji was appointed the youngest Commissioner and Chairman in the history of the Jersey City Housing Authority, the state’s second largest housing authority, where he has earned nationwide acclaim for his oversight and various reforms.
When Mukherji takes office, the Democrat will represent the 33rd Legislative District, which comprises Jersey City, Union City, Hoboken, and Weehawken. Ethnically diverse, the 33rd is the most densely populated legislative district in the state and borders New York. The Lincoln and Holland Tunnels traverse and end in the district.
The young lawmaker considers Upendra Chivukula, (D-17th District) who has served in the New Jersey General Assembly since 2002 and was re-elected last week as well, as a friend and mentor for many years. “Thanks to him and others, his generation of Indian American elected officials blazed the trail and paved the way for younger generation of public servants like me,” he said.
“What I want to see is while I am the second after Upendra in NJ there is no reason why there cannot be five or ten more Indian Americans like me in Trenton. In Jersey City, the Indian community doubled in population and Asian population is now quarter of the total population in Jersey City. State wise the Indian American population grew by 75 percent between 2000 and 2010 census.
“The Indian Americans have contributed to make NJ better in every aspect. I hope that the Indians and the South Asian Diaspora continue to involve themselves in public life whether by running for office or by serving the public in other ways. I just want to see more Indian American and South Asian faces in New Jersey Government,” Mukherji said.
Mukherji came to the US from Kolkata when he was barely three years old. He has been named in Politicker’s annual Power List as one of New Jersey’s ‘100 most politically influential personalities’ as well as to the Forty under 40 list by NJBIZ. He holds an individualised Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts from Thomas Edison State College.
Image: Raj Mukherji has been named one of New Jersey's '100 most politically influential personalities' in Politicker's annual Power List