In a pretty amazing video shot on Friday evening by the Politicker, Queens Councilman James Sanders gave an animated pitch to a south Asian Democratic club in Richmond Hill, seeking votes for his state Senate race from a community that has often felt ignored by politicians.
During the 20-minute campaign speech, Sanders, who is running against Democratic State Sen. Shirley Huntley, singled out one person in the large audience.
“I have such great friends in the audience here. There are so many. And if you start naming names you’re going to get in trouble. So I’m not going to point out my brother Vishnu Mahadeo back there,” Sanders said comically. “I won’t name him.”
Mahadeo is executive director of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council, a business development organization. In this year’s budget, Sanders gave the group a $5,000 member item, which was meant to promote an immigrant voter registration drive – even though Richmond Hill, where the organization is based, is not in Sanders’ City Council district.
But a number of those voters, in Richmond Hill, are in the new state Senate district where Sanders is challenging Huntley. And that’s where Sanders was on Friday evening, when he officially got the endorsement of the Richmond Hill Democratic Club.
Reached by phone this afternoon, Sanders insisted that the taxpayer-funded grant was not in any way meant to help his electoral prospects through the registration of potentially supportive voters.
“I think that organizations that register voters are a very good thing,” Sanders said. “I think you guys are reading too much into this. That would really be reading the tea leaves.”
The New York City Council budget was finalized in late June, months after Sanders made clear his plans to run for Senate. This member item is listed on the Council’s website as still “pending.”
Sanders said that the Richmond Hill Economic Development Council would register voters in Sanders’ Council district as well as the Senate district. He also noted that he had given money to organizations trying to register Orthodox Jewish voters in past years.
Reached by phone, Mahadeo said no other lawmaker had funded his organization’s voter registration efforts. He called the funding from Sanders “unprecedented.”
But Mahadeo said both he and his organization were staying neutral in the Senate race.
“We don’t get involved with candidates,” Mahadeo added. “And we are not just focusing on the South Asian community.”
Update: It’s also worth noting that Mahadeo gave Sanders a $4,000 campaign donation in April. So it would seem that Mahadeo is personally supporting Sanders.
Here’s the video of Sanders’ speech, via Colin Campbell:
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