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Battery Park City resident Jenifer Rajkumar, 30, has just been named a “40 under 40” rising star by the political media outlet City & State. Rajkumar [RAHJ ko mar] became a Democratic district leader in 2011 for B.P.C., the Financial District and the South Street Seaport. A graduate of Stanford Law School, Rajkumar turned to politics after working in public policy at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. She is the legal director of the New York State Young Democrats and the youngest board member of the Women’s Campaign Fund, a nonprofit that assists females who are running for office. In an interview with the Downtown Express, Rajkumar spoke about her journey toward becoming a local district leader and the issues she cares about most.
BY KAITLYN MEADE | What did it take to be elected district leader?
I have pursued social justice in many ways throughout the years as a civil rights litigator. I came to view government and politics as another important way to make a difference and give a voice to the voiceless. I went all across Lower Manhattan, from the west side to the east side, and met all my neighbors — people from all different ethnic groups and income levels. This took me from public housing projects to the buildings of Wall Street. I discussed my candidacy with them and listened to their concerns. By the time I was elected, I was ready to act on those concerns.
What does a district leader do?
A district leader is a liaison between the people and the elected officials including Congress members, Assembly members and city officials. You also help select judges for the New York County courts. I make sure to go to local community board meetings and others around the district so I can keep my pulse on the concerns of the district. For example, in Battery Park City, one of the major concerns of my neighbors was that we no longer had a bus route that connected our neighborhood to the Lower East Side and Chinatown. I worked with Assembly Member Sheldon Silver to bring the M9 bus back to the neighborhood. That is one of the ways that I helped as a liaison between the people and the government.
As a representative of your community, what are your current goals?
Reaching youth early and exposing them to political process has been a very exciting part of this job. We are also trying to register voters in Downtown and otherwise engage the locals fully in the political process. There has been a huge population migration to Downtown, and with the upcoming presidential election and the race to choose a new mayor next year, it’s very important to make sure everyone has a voice in this process.
Tell us about one of the most exciting projects you’ve worked on.
One thing I’ve been excited about is speaking to youths and working toward getting them involved in politics. I visited the Lower East Side Girls Club and spoke to girls ages eight to twelve about political leadership and government. I had to find a way to communicate to them what it is about. I told them, “Politics is love. Politics is expressing love for your community, and I know you have that love inside of you.” By the end, one girl said she wants to be president, and one girl wants to be governor.
How were you nominated a rising star by City & State and what does it mean to you?
I was humbled and honored to be selected! It was a very competitive process — there were over 500 nominations. And it really allows me to be a positive example. My parents immigrated to this country from India with just one suitcase and $300, so if I can do it, you can do it. It is a way of recognizing that young people should be weighing in on the major decisions facing their generation, such as the environment, the future of the planet, how they are going to take care of their parents and grandparents, poverty and gun violence. It shows that young people have a place at the decision-making table.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to sing karaoke. City Council Member Rosie Mendez and I do a mean rendition of “Empire State of Mind.” I sing the Alicia Keys part, and she does Jay-Z. I also like to sing Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and Broadway show tunes. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is a new favorite!