Flanked by his wife, supporters and neighbors, Shekar Krishnan launched his bid to represent District 25, which encompasses Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
“I’m running because it is time to radically restructure New York, to dismantle systems of oppression,” he said, “and together build power with communities that have been struggling so much.”
An attorney specializing in fighting housing discrimination, Krishnan has represented tenants in some of the most gentrified areas of the city, including north Brooklyn and Queens. Last year, he co-founded Communities Resist, a legal services organization fighting against displacement and gentrification.
Krishnan has sued the city several times over rezonings, including the successful Broadway Triangle fair housing case.
In Jackson Heights, where he lives with his wife Zoe and two children, Krishnan co-founded Friends of Diversity Plaza and is part on the coalition to expand 34th Avenue’s Open Streets.
He noted that the district was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, which he attributed to “decades of disinvestment” in the neighborhood.
Immigrant communities couldn’t socially isolate due to their housing conditions, he said, and many essential workers did not receive proper assistance from the government. Many small businesses struggling to pay rent also shuttered.
“It is simply a fact that the most vulnerable in our neighborhoods are the most threatened by the interlocking public health, racial justice and housing emergencies of our time,” he said.
Krishnan’s parents immigrated from India and immediately faced immense hardship in the country, the candidate said. They couldn’t pay their first security deposit for their apartment, and bounced from job to job,.
One day, his father was fired because the boss “didn’t want a foreigner” taking the position, Krishnan said. But his father didn’t know what it meant to be told he was being let go. When he returned home, he only realized he no longer had the job after speaking with his wife.
They had such a tough time that they gave up and moved back to India, taking Krishnan to Bombay as a baby to raise him there.
“It was only a stroke of luck that circumstances changed and they came back to the United States,” he said. “Otherwise, my story, our family, would not have happened.”
His family’s story, as well as the struggles that immigrants still face today, drove Krishnan to go to law school, where he met his wife, Zoe Levine. Krishnan said they formed a bond over their shared activism and doing immigrants’ rights work. Today, Levine is an immigration public defender.
Raising their young family in Jackson Heights, Krishnan said he has taken part in many of the community’s fights over the years, including the campaign against the Target rezoning, defunding the police, rooting out hate and intolerance against the LGBTQ community, and expanding open spaces like Diversity Plaza and Travers Park.
“I know these fights because I have fought them with you every step of the way,” he said. “Now, we will take this fight to City Hall.”
Krishnan said he will work to create a “better city” where housing is a human right, health care doesn’t depend on zip code and maternal mortality doesn’t depend on one’s race.
With a perspective of racial justice based on years of grassroots activism, the longtime community leader said he would “agitate and advocate” at City Hall. Krishnan said he plans to hold the city government accountable to be more responsive to the most vulnerable in local communities.
“I know that politics is not the movement, it does not lead the movement,” he said. “I do know that this work must be movement-based and intersectional, centered around the voices of those closest to the pain.
“This is why I’m running,” Krishnan added. “This is the kind of representation I believe we need in our neighborhoods and in our politics.”
The race for District 25 already has seven candidates, including community activist Alfonso Quiroz and Carolyn Tran, Councilman Daniel Dromm’s chief of staff. According to the latest campaign finance filings, both Krishnan and Quiroz have raised more than $41,000.
At his announcement last week, Krishnan received several endorsements, including from Milan Rahman, a union leader, Cecilia Gentili, a transgender advocate and Rhoda Dunn, a community activist.
“One thing I know about Shekar is that he is a fierce fighter, especially in the area of housing,” Dunn said. “I feel that we’re going to be so lucky to have a City Council person who has expertise in that particular issue, which is so important in New York City.
“Now, we need someone like Shekar more than ever,” she added. “We need someone who will be fearless, speak truth to power and is not going to give up.”
Women’s right advocate Paula Avila Guillen, who chairs Krishnan’s campaign, said Krishnan will lead with his values.
“He’s going to make the decisions that might be the hardest decisions, but it’s the right decision,” she said. “He’s not going to go the easy route or what is the politically correct answer, but the right answer for our community.”