Jaslin Kaur, recent Hunter graduate, announced on Thursday that she is running to represent District 23 in New York City Council. The election is in 2021.
If elected, Kaur will be the first woman and first South Asian American to represent her home district in the easternmost part of Queens, shown in the map below.
In her announcement on Instagram, Kaur said she is running to “revitalize East Queens, and challenge the legacy of political machines that has let transit deserts, a dearth of senior care, and homelessness flourish.”
The issues at the center of her campaign — publicly subsidizing transportation and education, and addressing victims of the taxi medallion crisis — are intimately connected with her personal experiences in CUNY and at home. “I struggled getting to Hunter College… because it took me an hour and a half just to get to campus,” she said in an interview with The Envoy. Her neighborhood of Glen Oaks relies on a system of public buses because it has no subway station.
Kaur attended Nassau Community College before transferring to Hunter, where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in women’s and gender studies and a minor in human rights in 2019. As a lifelong student of the public education system, she sees potential to reimagine “quality public education” for the city. “We need a free CUNY,” said Kaur, referencing activist groups fighting for the university to be tuition-free.
Kaur is the daughter of Sikh Punjabi immigrants, a background not uncommon in her district, where she has lived her entire life. According to the most recent census data, Asians make up the largest demographic in District 23, at 37 percent of the population. Queens is also home to the largest immigrant population in the city.
Her mother works for a grocery store union and her father drives a yellow taxicab. During the 2014 taxi medallion market crash, her family felt the effects deeply. Kaur was applying to college then, but when “the bubble burst,” she needed to rethink her future. She attended a private university first, but eventually withdrew and enrolled in Nassau Community College instead.
“Overnight, we realized we couldn’t pay tuition for school,” she said. “Affordability and massive debt was the reason I had to drop out of school.”
Now, ensuring justice for victims like her father is at the forefront of her campaign. “A bailout fund and retirement fund for all NYC taxicab drivers impacted by the 2014 medallion market crash is my priority for City Council,” her website says.
Currently, Kaur is Special Assistant to the Founder and President of New American Leaders, a group that trains and empowers immigrants to run for public office. She also organizes with Know your IX, on Title IX advocacy and “decarcerating” schools.
Barry Grodenchik, the current city council member for District 23, announced on October 14 that he will not be seeking re-election even though he is one of just 17 incumbents allowed to run due to term limits.
Last year, Grodenchik faced disciplinary charges after admitting that he paid unwelcome attention to a female staffer, accusations he previously denied.
“As someone who has worked in survivor advocacy and in the gender-based violence field… I knew that I didn’t want someone like that representing me,” Kaur said.
If elected, the 24-year-old self-described “disruptor” will not only make history in her district, but also be among the youngest of the 51 city council members. She orients herself in opposition to the “Queens Machine,” or the Queens County Democratic Committee, the long-established power player in local politics. “I’m really ready to challenge that system as it stands,” she said.
As of now, two other candidates — Linda Lee and Christopher Fuentes-Padilla — are running for the same position, according to campaign filings.