NY State Senator Steven Rhoads: A Republican Who Won Over Pakistani Americans

By Jay Rover
PACE leader Saeed Hassan (First fromm R) and other community leaders with Steven Rhoads (3rd from R) at the oath-taking ceremony. (Courtesy PACE photo)
Steven Rhoads is no ordinary politician. Having shined as a firefighter, County Legislator, and public safety advocate, Rhoads made the headlines last November when he was elected to the New York State Senate. He defeated incumbent Democrat, John E. Brooks, by a margin of more than 20%, securing 79,486 votes against Brooks’ 50,985 votes.

His supporters, and even critics, agree that he turned a traditionally Democratic district Republican. But how did he achieve it? His supporters believe it was his coalition building, and outreach to communities of color, minorities and immigrants. Rightly so. And this belief of many of his electorate was on display at his January 21st inauguration at Wantagh High School in Wantagh, Long Island. Pretty much all the communities of his district had representation in the audience, including several leading figures of the Pakistani American community.

Steven Rhoads taking oath as a state senator. (PACE photo)

State Senate District 5 covers much of Long Island’s North Shore in Nassau County and Suffolk County, including northern Huntington and Oyster Bay, as well as the city of Glen Cove. The district has the presence of a large Pakistani-American community.

According to Saeed Hassan, a leading community organizer and businessman who runs Pakistani American Community Excellence (PACE), there is a large population of Pakistani voters in the district, which has eight mosques. Hassan was one of the Pakistani American community leaders who received a personal invitation from Rhoads to attend his oath-taking ceremony.

“I am truly humbled by the trust that you and so many residents – of all political parties – have placed in me,” said Rhoads in the personal invitation to Saeed, adding: “I will work to defend our safety and our suburban values while fighting to return New York State government to the people of this great state.”

“PACE team, and I were asked to attend his Inauguration and benediction where I took Imam Dr. Ameen Urehman for dua,” Saeed told Pakistan Week. He said other faith leaders including Christian, Jewish, Sikh and others also attended the ceremony. He invited several other Pakistani, Indian and South Asian leaders to the event. Also present were Nassau County leaders of the Republican Party, including Joe Cato and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman.

Saeed is an ardent proponent of cementing interfaith and inter-community relations. “I believe we (Pakistani-Americans) are small in numbers and should work with all elected members and serve as a bridge between them and the community to understand local government and how it affects us. Therefore vote is the power.”

Saeed took Rhoads to Pakistani community events, including those organized by PACE, and Friday prayers at Islamic Centers to introduce him to the Pakistani and Muslim communities. “He (Rhoads) appreciates and would work with the immigrants, especially Pakistani and South Asians, where needed,” added Saeed.

True to Saeed’s words, Rhoads ran a spirited election campaign and connected with the Pakistani-American, Muslim, and South Asian voters who traditionally have supported Democratic Party candidates. The community’s departure from its traditional voting pattern may be a red flag for Democrats in 2024 on Long Island.

A former Nassau County legislator, Rhoads has promised to fight for repealing “dangerous bail laws that free killers, gang members, drug dealers, and other violent felons from jail”. Steve wants to prioritize public safety, standing shoulder to shoulder with police officers and ensuring they have the resources necessary to fight crime.

He has also promised his constituents that he will work to ease the “crushing property tax burden by expanding the STAR program, protecting the property tax cap, and enhancing property tax rebate checks – all while limiting spending and cutting waste in the State Budget.”

In his remarks at the oathtaking ceremony, Rhoads thanked his constituents including Pakistani Americans for their support and promised to represent them effectively in Albany. He said we do not wish to see Long Island as the sixth borough of New York City because he wants to create more jobs in his constituency, ensure public safety and bring down the rate of tax.

In his brief remarks, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman congratulated Rhoads on winning the confidence of his voters. He said Nassau County is sending a powerful voice to Albany in the person of Rhoads.

Photos Courtesy: PACE

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