By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
Back in September 2019, I attended a summit hosted by 21’ in 21’ at SEIU 32BJ’s headquarters in Manhattan. 21’ in 21’ is a grassroots membership-based non-profit organization that has been working for several years to encourage women to run for New York City Council seats in 2021. With so many Council Members term-limited out rendering their seats open with no incumbent to beat, and with just a handful of women City Council Members in a body of 51, the time was ripe to mobilize women to increase their representation on the City’s legislature. At the time of the summit, upon the advice of many colleagues and friends who saw in me a potential candidate, I had been mulling a run for elected office. As I networked and reconnected, more than one person asked: “Have you met Felicia Singh?” I didn’t know much about Singh then, only having crossed paths as contributing writers for Brown Girl Magazine.
Over the next couple years, I witnessed Singh, a 10th grade teacher who was raised in Ozone Park, build out an inspirational, people-powered, inclusive and intersectional campaign in a district historically represented by a Republican. While the majority of registered voters in District 32 are Democrats, Republicans have won time immemorial in major part due to higher voter turnout in the southern part of the district which primarily leans conservative. On July 8, after results of both in-person and absentee ballots were counted, Singh emerged victorious as Democrats’ choice for their next City Council Member. As an Indo-Caribbean woman myself, I see Singh’s candidacy as an opportunity to elect a woman of color whose personal story and values align with countless working class immigrant families that call South Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park and Ozone Park home.
The June 2021 primary election was the first time that a new system of voting, ranked-choice voting (RCV), was implemented on such a wide-scale. “I was the only candidate talking about RCV in this race,” Singh said. As we discussed some nuances about the results, she continued, “The challenging part was that there was a candidate who literally opposed RCV and said ‘rank me and no one else’.” Singh attributes the narrow margin in the first round of RCV to the fact that many in District 32 did “bullet voting,” or voting for only one candidate. “This was nerve wracking. For those who practiced RCV, we are so grateful.”
Did Singh awake the sleeping dragon in the predominantly immigrant voting bloc of Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park? Board of Elections results for in-person ballots on primary election day alone showed that voter turnout nearly doubled in these neighborhoods as compared to the 2017 Democratic primary. This is exciting and could change the trajectory of the district for a long time to come.
In our conversation after her historic win, Singh said, “People said there’s no way an Indo-Caribbean, Punjabi or woman of color could win.” In reference to District 32 at large, Singh said: “There’s a deep need for change. We showed our opponents that our community is so much more different than we thought.” Singh is unapologetically progressive. She fights for the rights of people who have long been tokenized and not truly uplifted.
Singh was also the first person to receive a high school diploma and a college degree in her family. She knows struggle. “We inherit intergenerational debt. We have debt for multiple reasons: loan from school, credit card, mortgage, bankruptcy or because we couldn’t afford our taxi medallion.” Singh’s father had to declare bankruptcy in 2019 after losing his medallion and the family had to put their house up for sale during Singh’s campaign until they raised enough funds to keep it.
Singh’s experience working on political campaigns including Tiffany Caban’s competitive race for district attorney, Mary Jobaida’s race for State Assembly and Shaniyat Choudhury’s run for Congress informed her own success. “This work taught me that there are gaps I wanted to fill on my own team when I run. I wanted to center the US and not the individual in community organizing.” Singh considers herself “so lucky to have a huge team of mothers, folks in the queer community, and people who have never been a part of the electoral process.”
Among her favorite moments during the campaign thus far, Singh recalled receiving the Working Families Party endorsement. “It was hard and competitive. We all cried. Trusting I was the candidate to rally behind was so moving to me.” Another memorable moment was when the announcement was made about the order candidates’ names would show up on the ballot through a game-show-like process. “The ball comes out of the contraption and the number was one. We screamed so loud! It was super symbolic. We worked so hard for this and fate gave it back to us.”
Singh has given our community the campaign it has long deserved. Her team knocked on over 22,000 doors, called 55,000 people, did 1000 volunteer shifts and per Singh, has expanded the electorate by over 4000 people. Her campaign received the most endorsements of any candidate in the race including many major labor unions.
When I asked Singh what differentiates her from her opponent, she said: “The major difference is that I am leading with policy. The other opponents do not have flushed out policy plans for education, healthcare, community building, infrastructure, or climate resilience.” Referencing her opponent in the general election, Joann Ariola, Singh said, “All our opponent is committing is that there will be more police on every corner.”
Singh’s mother is from Corriverton, Guyana and her father is from Punjab, India. She is the eldest of three siblings, a brother, Shan, and sister Sabina. Her favorite Guyanese food is her Mom’s duck curry and her favorite soca song is Crazy’s classic Nani Wine, a song she danced a lot to as a child.
Singh poetically ended our conversation with “I am the candidate who will take our stories of struggle and make them stories of change.” I’m encouraging all my readers to vote for Felicia Singh on November 2 and to convince all your neighbors and friends to do the same. To learn more about Felicia Singh’s policy platforms, visit Felicia2021.com.