NY May Be Blue, But That's Not The Same As Progressive. Needed: More Like Sarahana Shrestha
In June’s New York primary, Hudson Valley progressive champion Sarahana Shrestha defeated long-time incumbent Kevin Cahill, a garden variety political hack and careerist who had been in office nearly 30 years. The 103rd Assembly District includes parts of Ulster and Duchess counties, including Kingston, Woodstock, Saugerties, Rhinebeck, New Paltz and Gardiner. Sarahana, a Nepali immigrant, is the Ulster County co-chair for the Mid-Hudson Valley chapter of Democratic Socialists of America and she campaigned vigorously on a solid working class platform, from universal healthcare and affordable housing to replacing dependence on expensive corporate fossil fuels with lower cost renewable energy. Sounds good? Please consider contributing to her general election campaign.
It was a shock when, though tremendously outspent, she beat Cahill, 7,784 (51.7%) to 7,274 (48.3%), in the highest turn-out in the state, one of just 3 contests where a challenger displaced an incumbent. “The success of this race in November,” she said, “will prove that leftist electoral organizing can win in more than just big cities, including in a district like the 103rd, where voters without party affiliation is a norm. In New York, our win will pave the way for statewide power towards policies and budget priorities that the everyday working class New Yorkers desperately need.”
I asked her what she has in mind as a member of the Assembly. She didn’t hesitate. “New York hasn’t passed substantial climate legislation since passing its State mandates in 2019. We need to organize within the State legislature so that climate is no longer seen as a siloed issue separate from our economy, which is in conflict with our collective well-being because it prioritizes short term profits. Instead of leaving the future of our renewables in the hands of for-profit corporations, the NY Build Public Renewables Act would allow the State to step in to build renewable energy and serve it as a public good to state-owned properties and low and moderate income families. In the process, it would also empower workers by using high labor standards. This type of legislation isn’t just about meeting renewable targets, it’s also about how we’d like to get there, and who gains from it.”
Blue America endorsed her because of her policy positions, her activism and because she took a pledge to refuse all donations from corporations, corporate lobbyists, fossil fuel executives, real estate executives, and insurance executives. She ran for office in this way in order to be able to stand up to corporations and lobbyists who have more influence over New York’s government than regular people do, and she told me that she takes that pledge very seriously. Her campaign has been 100% people-powered and people-funded.
The district has been trending blue but there are more independent voters than there are Republicans and no one can win without their support. Sarahana explained that her campaign “has never been about just winning the election. It’s always been about using it as a vehicle to organize. When we knocked on thousands of doors during the primary, we weren’t just asking for a vote, we were having conversations about the kind of future we know we deserve, and how we plan on getting there. We talked to people about public power,
universal healthcare, tenant rights, and we see a great potential for building a multi-generational movement that will allow the Hudson Valley to lead on these issues.”
She was endorsed by AOC, who talked about her in terms of needing “leaders at all levels of government laser-focused on delivering for working families. We can't wait for guaranteed healthcare. We can't wait for affordable housing. We can't wait for climate justice.”
The Republican running against her avoids bringing up Trump in public but instead reminisces about Rudy Giuliani and Ronald Reagan. “Nothing can be taken for granted in New York, including the right to abortion,” Sarahana reminded me. “We must constantly organize to destigmatize it and build deep, long-lasting support for it as a basic healthcare right. And we must pass pending legislation that would create more funding and access to abortions, which would allow New York to be a safe haven for those who need help in other states.”
Supporting a candidate like Sarahana today means helping to build a progressive bench in a state where there are too many Democrats like Andrew Cuomo, Hakeem Jeffries, Sheldon Silver, Sean Patrick Maloney, Pedro Espada, Dean Skelos, Kathleen Rice, Kathy Hochul, Ritchie Torres, Alan Hevesi, Eric Adams… This is Sarahana's original intro video (for the primary); it'll give you an idea about what her priorities are: