The public's increased involvement in local politics that followed the presidential election has lingered long past November, driven by New Yorkers' acute interest in getting single payer health care, legal protections for transgender individuals, and abortion protections enshrined in state law. With the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference not showing any signs of coming back to the fold, members of the conference are starting to collect primary challengers. While Marisol Alcantara has picked up a challenger in the form of former City Council member Robert Jackson, Queens' Jose Peralta will be facing a more unorthodox challenger, 16-year-old Tahseen Chowdhury.
Where other teenagers might spend their summers wrestling sharks out of the ocean for photo ops, Chowdhury is laying the groundwork early for a run at Jose Peralta's seat representing the State Senate's 13th District covering Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. Chowdhury is specifically making Peralta's IDC membership an issue in the race, telling Gothamist that Peralta is failing to represent the community he was elected to represent due to his IDC membership, and that the "community wouldn't align with the IDC if they knew what it was," a claim somewhat bolstered by the raucous town hall that Peralta held following his defection to the GOP-aligned group.
Chowdhury is not exactly a political novice, having won positions as the Student Union President at Stuyvesant High School and the Manhattan Borough Student President. Chowdhury said that his political awakening about the IDC came after he worked with State Senator Jesse Hamilton on legislation that would have added two student voters to the DOE's Panel for Educational Policy. Hamilton, an IDC member, was receptive at first, but Chowdhury said communication about the bill "suddenly cut off." While trying to figure out why that might have happened, he became interested in the IDC and state politics. Through an IDC spokesperson, Hamilton denied that he had worked on the legislation or spoken with Chowdhury about it.
If Democrats aren't represented on the national level, Chowdhury told us, it's important to at least see them represented on the state and local level, and is clearly pitching himself as an alternative to State Senator Peralta; one who would conference with the mainline Democratic conference. Chowdhury suggested that by aligning himself with the mainline conference, he could be a better advocate for the bills like the DREAM Act and the New York Health Act than Peralta.
"The IDC signed on to single payer is because they know it won't pass," Chowdhury told us, "so goal is to get the IDC out [of power] and accomplish it." Chowdhury also said that he would be in favor of the city getting to run its own plastic bag fee system again, something that Peralta voted to overturn.
"The reason that progressive policies can't pass on the State Senate level is because the IDC exists. There's a Democratic majority," Chowdhury said, "so we shouldn't be having this issue right now."
The anti-IDC message will work, because people are ready to hear it, Chowdhury told us. As an example, he brought up his own mother, who was a regular Peralta voter who didn't have an issue with Peralta joining the IDC until he says he explained to her what what it was. Chowdhury is also having similar conversations with friends and neighbors, and said, "Once I get them to listen, they're very anti-IDC, it's unsettling to them, especially in a time when Republicans control the White House, Senate and the House."
As for his age, Chowdhury said he understands that people could dismiss his campaign as a stunt or a joke, but he hasn't encountered that yet. "If people were going to be dismissive, it would have happened by now," he argued, adding, "This campaign isn't sloppy, it's extremely serious."
Chowdhury told us that he feels that 2018 will be a good moment for outsider candidates, and suggested he's nothing if not an outsider. "Everyone is tired of standard politicians, of candidates backed up by the machine, that are the chosen ones. It's happened too long in New York."
However, despite admitting that he's a "high risk candidate" for the Democratic machine, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants said that he's confident he can bring out the district's "South Asian community on a level that's never been seen before" and also pull in large numbers of young voters, owing to both his own youth and his team made up of high school students from across the city.
"Everyone in this city and state is thinking about politics to a degree," Chowdhury told us. "As soon as we bring this to their attention they'll definitely get excited about it."