She may not be a household name for many Pakistani Americans or South Asians in New York City for that matter, but if elected, she will become the first Kashmiri American ever to be elected to the US Congress. Meet Reema Rasool, 42, a candidate for the US Congress from District 3.
New York’s 3rd Congressional District encompasses Nassau County’s North Shore, parts of northeastern Queens, and parts of northwestern Suffolk County.
“I am a single mother of two boys, a life-long New Yorker, an entrepreneur, a social activist and a community organizer who is not running on her ethnic identity,” is the simple message Reema has for her voters who may not know her.
Reema is the daughter of immigrants from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. Her parents immigrated to the US in 1970s. She was born and raised in the district she wants to represent in the US Congress. She ran an unsuccessful bid for Oyster Bay council last year, securing an impressive 18,000 votes.
She took significant time out of her loaded schedule to share her vision with a select group of Pakistani Americans, majority being her possible voters. The Zoom meeting was organized by Pakistani American Society of Long Island (PASNY).
Mohammad Ashraf Azmi and Fazlul Haq Syed, the moving spirits behind the Pakistani community organization, steered the online event with the help of Rafi Fazli who moderated. According to Azmi, PASNY is planning to host more such events with the other candidates from District 3 and beyond.
Reema wants to replace Congressman Tom Suozzi (D) from the district, who has announced his gubernatorial candidacy for New York. She espouses moderate Democratic credentials and is promising to work for the middle class. She wants to reach out to every community in her constituency because she needs coalition-building to win primaries in a race that could see many more than the three candidates she is currently facing.
There are not many voters who identify themselves as Muslims or of Pakistan heritage. According to Ather Tirmazi, who is running Reema’s campaign, there may be as manny as 1,200 votes in District 3, which sounds very insignificant number. But given the growing number of candidates joining the fray, smaller communities are expected to emerge as critical in deciding the race. The possibility may become more real because of deep divisions within the Democratic Party. A higher turnout from smaller communities voters amidst an overall lower turnout on the primaries day will make the communities with limited vote bank critical for any candidate’s victory. And Reema’s campaign is very well aware of this possible challenging situation.
Reema, for now, is facing three candidates, including Joshua Lafazan, 27, Jon Kaiman, 59, and Melanie D’Arrigo. But she identifies herself differently from her opponents. “I am not a traditional politician. I am an outsider, who has successfully ran businesses and community organizations,” she told the leading members of Pakistani community during the 90-minute Zoom call.
According to Ather Tirmizi, Reema’s campaign is reflective of the voters she is reaching out to. “We have Asians, Indians, Jews, besides Muslims and Pakistanis on our campaign.” He said the campaign is gearing up for a more targeted messaging to the different communities to “turn the campaign into a movement”.
Reema repeatedly declared during the Zoom call that she is not running her campaign on the basis of her identity but would not hide the pride she takes in her Kashmiri heritage or her opinion on Jammu and Kashmir, the main bone of contention between India and Pakistan that has lead to three wars between the nuclear rivals.
“I believe in UN resolutions on Kashmir,” she said, adding that United Nations resolutions offer the best way to a permanent settlement. Reema has never disconnected herself from her heritage and visits Kashmir frequently, running community projects there.
“I’m running for Congress because our middle class is suffering. Our high tax rates hinder growth, and while huge corporations get away with billion dollar tax breaks, our middle class small business owners must decide between shutting down or firing staff, just to keep their heads above water,” she declared on her campaign site.
“I’m running for Congress to show my boys that this is their country, our country, and that we need to be brave and fight for what we believe in. We deserve honest, sincere representation, who will fight for us.”