My Saratoga City Council experience
You will not believe what you read
Watch the video: Rishi's speech at the council meeting
One of the greatest strengths of America is the diversity of its citizenry. Our country is a melting pot of cultures from around the world. I would never have dreamt in my wildest dream a run for United States Congress when I took the flight from Bombay with two suitcases and zest, passionate love for America. I arrived in this country to a great graduate school program on the east coast to study Mechanical Engineering. While this country has offered me many opportunities, it has also brought about challenges. At every stop on my journey, from attending graduate school to serving on the city council in Saratoga, I have experienced some “resistance.” Some people have sought to discredit the accomplishments that I have achieved in my personal life and as an elected official. However, they have never deterred my desire to follow my dreams and serve my community.
America has been a melting pot and embraced immigrants. This country has welcomed me with open arms. I am thrilled at how open this country is towards immigrants. I don’t think there are very many countries in the world that welcome immigrants the way America does. But there is some bias like any other place in the world. I am glad we are confronting such issues head on and finding common ground - after all we are one and part of the same melting pot. We cannot be quiet when we observe such happenings. Americans have demonstrated their stance against wrong behavior time and again.
Speaking up is hard. But let me try to speak up today: Running for city council and now for United States Congress - I have encountered some illogical statements and aspersions - I would just shrug my shoulders and ignore them. Many hateful and strange emails have arrived into my congressional-candidate inbox during the course of this rain. I cast it aside, “Indian Americans are perceived as coders, not politicians. It is a paradigm shift - and that can be hard.”
I have been called “Batman” by a press reporter who continues to attack me publicly, ridicules and belittles my public service work every time he can. Another chooses to make condescending statements trashing my city council stint and the years of activism in the interest of the people of Silicon Valley, disbelieving my work to push back water rates successfully. They have no respect for someone like me who is keenly interested in fixing challenges in the community around me - the reason why a hi-tech executive made public service an alternate path. I wanted my public service hours to be productive. I was the only councilmember who took on the top community challenges, dropping burglaries, fighting San Jose Water Company’s rampant rate increases, pushing back against a flawed tax increase for road repair, pushing back proactively against misconceived high-density projects, and pushing back against a 300 room hotel project in a high fire risk hillside. It was always easy to take potshots at my run. Why do some find it easy to say anything they could - smear attacks?
While walking neighborhoods in Saratoga during the 2018 re-election campaign, I still remember the astonishing moment of a resident who was driving down the street. She declared angrily, “What happens in India does not happen here.” I smiled at her, a bit puzzled as she hastily drove away, knowing that the community had embraced my work and results-driven approach. It was a bit unexpected, but I had encountered bizarre things. Members of the community recruited me to the Rotary Club. I was kept out twice with silly excuses. A member of the city council during the 2018 re-election run would declare to anyone she met that she does not want Rishi back on the city council and does not want to see Rishi as the mayor of Saratoga. Really? The reelection night party was a feeling of vindication - not only a very convincing win against that very person, but also the most votes in 64 years of Saratoga’s election history.
A sharp contrast to the 2014 first run when we just squeaked by a win - elected to the Saratoga city council by just 71 votes. I was keenly interested then to fix problems. My first project proposed, a signal light modification to make it a protected left turn - at a difficult street intersection would make the area safer. It as surprisingly not approved. Why? Because there were folks on the council were playing politics - "we will not let Rishi get anything done." It backfired! Because I figured out a different path to get things done. And that we did! Took on the tough challenges and delivered results. While I heard this from my city council colleagues: "Rishi - you don't need to have Neighborhood Safety meetings. Rishi you don't need to do a monthly city council newsletter. Oh, we don’t have jurisdiction over the San Jose Water company. Another former councilmember said that talk of this crime is scaring the children. Another said that crime talk would drop the price of real estate in Saratoga." Rishi don't do this, don't do that. Why did they feel entitled to talk down upon the work I was seeking to do? Why were they trying to pull me off my agenda of working in the interest of our community? Why were they entitled? Did they think they knew better than me? ?
Shirked by the establishment - even attacked with baseless allegations: Why did the establishment of Saratoga choose to constantly lie about my work on Nextdoor - let alone consider supporting my efforts to make Saratoga a better place? “Oh, Rishi has actually raised water rates - he has not done anything to reduce water rates.” I had to work ten times harder and found myself an easy target for everyone — as I never had air cover, the so-called “powers that be” supporting my run. As a person of color, I had to prove myself repeatedly, especially because I was pioneering a new course.
A Saratoga senior center board member and president chose to declare to anyone that Rishi pocketed funds meant for the senior center with the Saratoga’s Got Talent fundraisers - without a rhyme or reason. They completely ignored the tens of thousands of dollars they had received from our diligent efforts over many years - demonstrating no appreciation or gratitude; instead they chose to lie and tarnish my reputation blatantly.. Who would have thunk! After we provided the breakdown of our income and expense statement - the board member disappeared sans any comment or apology.
When residents were asking for my rotation as mayor for the 2021 year by sending emails to the city council in early December 2020, saying it was “Rishi’s turn,” there was a city council member who was telling everyone that “Rishi is NOT suitable to be mayor” and I was taken aback with that after all my 2018 win was with the highest number of votes in city history - 64 years. Many of our community members were offended by his “suitability” statement - by what he was insinuating. That night during the mayorship section meeting, there were forces from within Saratoga who had already orchestrated some classic maneuvering before the meeting started. During the proceedings, a state assemblymember and a county supervisor silently watched the zoom session. A lot of people had worked furiously behind the scenes to fight against my mayorship. The stakes were high so they did their best in an effort to keep me away from the keys of Saratoga. Mayorship is by rotation - one year for each councilmember - but egos can go sky high with such an “attainment.” Oh well..
My anomaly of a political journey started in 2012 when a state senator invited me to a meeting and asked me to run for a political party position. I wondered: why me? I was subsequently shocked at winning the Democratic Party Executive Board and Delegate position — the top spot. I was also surprised when the establishment-entitled party insiders hurled abuses at my win. They claimed that I had done nothing to deserve a seat on the table. Again, why do some people find someone like me to be easy picking? Why do they attempt to discount everything we have done?
We all know that immigrants build our nation, yet there are challenges for every new group. I have organized podcasts to do my part to put racism behind us once and for all. Our campaign also organized many STOP API Hate Crime rallies to bring youth groups together and air out our fears and concerns, and find ways to make our community stronger.
Let us continue to fight and stand by the right causes. Let us team up, not create roadblocks, and build a better future for every American.
I have confidence that the vast majority of Americans, and my fellow residents living in Silicon Valley are open and accepting, but we must also have the courage to confront incorrect beliefs whenever we come across them.
In spite of the challenges of my role and the imperfections of the system, I am endlessly excited about the possibilities to make it better. Never was an elected official more blessed with so many outstanding supporters. I am beyond grateful! And through my service over the years, I will continue to express my thanks to you, Saratoga, Silicon Valley,and all of America for the profound impact you have had on my life.
Thank you so much for reading this all the way to the end. I would love to hear from you.
If you are interested - here is my political journey below