Tahseen Chowdhury on Campaigning for State Senate

To explain Tahseen Chowdhury’s decision to run for the position of State State and talk about his political history.

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By James Young

Student Union (SU) President Tahseen Chowdhury has always been a force to be reckoned with—confidently swaggering down the hallway as if he owns the place. And, to the Stuyvesant student body, he very well may.

Though Chowdhury is part of a “dynasty” of students who worked their way up the political ladder, going from Freshman Caucus president to SU president, he has always fought against becoming another cog in the wheel of SU inefficiency.

“Two or three years ago, we were going down a route where the SU would be bankrupt by the middle of my senior year if I hadn’t stepped in and stabilized the budget,” he said. Since Chowdhury first became involved with school politics in the seventh grade, he has always sought to take concrete action.

This year, Chowdhury decided to take his political activism to the next level. He will be running for the position of State Senate for District 13, which is comprised of Jackson Heights, Corona, and East Elmhurst, in the 2018 election. As a state senator, Chowdhury would be responsible for writing, proposing, and voting on new legislation.

With these opportunities, Chowdhury believes that he will be able to positively impact not only his district, but also the entire state of New York. “I love sitting in a law library and finding ways to implement new ideas within the structures that exist. I believe I'll be able to take ideas and turn them into bills that'll benefit the community as a whole,” he said in an e-mail interview. “I also genuinely believe I'm a good candidate because of my lack of experience. I'm a fresh face in New York politics.”

He will be running against incumbent Senator Jose Peralta, who Chowdhury believes didn’t actually follow through with the promises made in his platform. In particular, Chowdhury is dissatisfied with the senator’s choice to align himself with the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of eight senators. He labels the IDC as a wolf in sheep’s clothing— ready to use the “Democrat” label to gain votes all the while obstructing the passage of progressive policies in the state senate.

Chowdhury’s disdain toward the IDC began to develop as he worked alongside Senator and member of the IDC Jesse Hamilton in 2016. “[Hamilton and I] wanted to propose and pass a piece of legislation that would reconstruct the panel [that decides on] educational policy. I felt that students should have the ability to advocate for what they want to see in the Department of Education,” Chowdhury said. Despite his attempt at empowering New York’s student body, he was shut out and ignored. Hamilton’s contact with him ceased altogether afterward.

Once Donald Trump was elected and Peralta had been accepted into the IDC, Chowdhury immediately began to think about what could be done.“It was really unsettling to me because the IDC was literally empowering Republicans in a way that the Republicans really shouldn’t be empowered,” he said.

Therefore, Chowdhury’s platform features a progressive outlook on issues ranging from affordable housing and safe streets to a legal defense fund for undocumented immigrants and “desegregation” in public schools. It highlights a comprehensive educational policy with an emphasis on student representation. One of Chowdhury’s proposed legislations even gives students the right to vote on the panel for educational reform.

He also proposes numerous changes that he believes would benefit the environment, such as a plastic bag tax and the creation of a task force dedicated to installing bike racks. Additionally, he hopes to bolster affordable health care and protect senior citizens by regulating nurse-to-patient ratios.

“New York is one of the most progressive states,” Chowdhury said. “If someone is going to think ‘progressive,’ they should think ‘New York.’ If someone is going to think ‘democratic’ they should think ‘New York.’”

Not only does Chowdhury believe he knows more about his community than Peralta does, but he also believes that he’s just as qualified of a candidate in other aspects. “[My experiences at Stuyvesant will] play a major role in actual politics because I understand how people operate,” he said. “I can sit down and think about the administration's perspective. I can also think about the students’ perspective and find a point where both perspectives meet. I’m sure I’ll be able to do this at the state level as well.”

Presently, Chowdhury’s campaigning has not officially started. However, he has been focusing on preparation for when his campaigning officially begins in March 2018. Being present on social media, engaging with his community about various issues, and fundraising is Chowdhury’s current priority. He has made attending anti-IDC and progressive rallies with fellow student volunteers a common ritual. “We go to rallies to talk to people and figure out what people think about and care about. I’m always excited about people caring about these issues,” he said.

In fact, this grassroots type campaigning was inspired by that of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.“One of the things Bernie Sanders told us was that we have to make sure that young people are running for office in their home states and home districts because we have to make sure that we are rising and resisting anywhere and everywhere we can,” he said.

Despite often being criticized for running before he’s even had the ability to vote, Chowdhury firmly maintains that no one is ever too young to get involved. “I've always been someone who likes to do things people might argue I'm a little too young for, whether that be starting a nonprofit, running a business, or running for office,” he said in an e-mail interview. “If you want to get active, just do it. It really is scary to put yourself out there, but it’s also most important that you advocate for your community.”

While most seniors are bombarded by the stress of the college application process and look forward to second semester as a time to blow off some steam, Chowdhury’s 2017-2018 school year will look quite different. “The election is after my senior year, but the campaign will take up the bulk of my second term. I'm excited for second term because this is a challenge that I think I can tackle. I'm limited to applying to colleges in NYC but that's something I'm completely fine with. New York is a great place and I'm ready to make sure that we make it better,” he said.

Chowdhury would like to thank the Stuyvesant community for rooting for him when he announced his candidacy. “I like to take everything I learn and apply it to the SU, so if anything, this campaign will allow me to improve my work within the SU. I don't think there's any way for it to negatively affect me,” he said.”Without a doubt, I would not be able to hold this together without the support I have from the community.”