Shaniyat Chowdhury, a leftwing candidate who is challenging Rep. Gregory Meeks in the Democratic primary for New York’s Fifth Congressional District, held his campaign launch on Sunday, Sept. 15, with a crowd of activists in Jamaica’s Marconi Park.
The 27-year-old South Jamaica resident was one of the first candidates to announce out of an expanding field of left-leaning candidates who are mounting Congressional challenges throughout the city. In Queens, he has since been joined by insurgent candidates across the borough running against Carolyn Maloney, Grace Meng and Tom Suozzi.
“A lot of people have been left out of the Democratic process. A lot of people haven’t voted or have been so dissatisfied with our current political system that they don’t want to vote,” Chowdhury said.
The event brought out a small but dedicated group of about 10 young volunteers who met each other through different grassroots political campaigns. Chowdhury said that it was the first of several launch events he plans on hosting across the district in order to begin canvassing and getting feedback from constituents.
Chowdhury’s campaign currently relies on six volunteer staffers, spearheaded by Claire Robinson and Anthony Pavone, two St. John’s University graduate students.
“The incumbent in the current Democratic leadership in Queens very much favors the middle and upper middle class and prioritizes those interests,” said Robinson of her reasons for joining the campaign.
Chowdhury’s speech focused on his personal narrative. The son of Bangladeshi immigrants, Chowdhury said that he joined the Marine Corps to support his parents after they lost their home to foreclosure and his father was laid off from a union job at an Atlantic City casino around the very beginning of the recession.
During this period, Chowdury said that he started to see his family’s predicament as the result of systemic failures. He became frustrated about the role that money plays in politics, and got involved in grassroots organizing for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then Tiffany Cabán’s campaign as soon as he finished his term of service with the Marine Corps.
“People like my family and my neighbors were still stuck in the system that taught us to believe that just work hard. You’ll make it. And we’ve seen that has not been the case that it’s been a lie,” Chowdhury said
Asked about his policy priorities, Chowdhury emphasized campaign finance reform, adding that he would be running without any PAC money. He also named a number of prevailing policies on the leftist side of the House that he supports including the Green New Deal, free public college tuition, fair housing for all and criminal justice reforms aimed at decarcerating the prison industrial complex.
Chowdhury told QNS that he wants to take the emphasis the narrative that his candidacy serves as a referendum on the Queens Democratic Party machine.
“I give Meeks credit that he’s the first African-American Chair of the Queens Democratic Party. We’ve never seen that before,” Chowdhury said. “But I think that a lot of people have been so engulfed with just holding power that they haven’t been nurturing the future. They will talk about what they’ve done but they don’t talk about what they’re doing now.”
Even if Chowdhury is able to activate a new voting block in the southeast Queens district, the task facing him is daunting. After decades of public service and securing leadership of the county Democratic party, Meeks marshals fierce party loyalty among other politicians in southeast Queens and a powerful network of donors. As of the end of June, Meeks had raised $453,698.42 for his campaign.
Chowdhury said that he aims to build a movement through door-knocking and meeting with constituents. True to his word, he immediately began canvassing after he gave his speech Sunday.
“Today is not about getting a big crowd. It’s not about media attention. It’s just about starting this,” said Chowdhury.