A Rapper Who Wants to Heal the Sick, Tax the Rich: Mira Nair’s Son Zohran Mamdani is New York’s Coolest Politician


A Rapper Who Wants to Heal the Sick, Tax the Rich: Mira Nair’s Son Zohran Mamdani is New York’s Coolest Politician

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

While the United States (and most of the rest of the world as well) waits anxiously for the results of its presidential election, other, smaller races have already been confirmed. And in the elections for the New York State Assembly, the group of representatives just added some desi flavour, with Zohran Kwame Mamdani, a Democrat, running unopposed and winning from Astoria, a neighbourhood in Queens, New York City. A first-time candidate, Mamdani is 28 years old and the son of Indian filmmaker Mira Nair and Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani.

His mixed African and South Asian heritage, as well as his time spent living in Uganda, where he was born, made him a fitting choice to represent the people of Queens, a neighbourhood populated by many immigrants. While announcing his victory, Mamdani said he was going to spend his time in office working on ways to “tax the rich, heal the sick, house the poor & build a socialist New York.” Along with Jennifer Rajkumar, Mamdani will be one of the first two Indian-Americans elected to the New York State Assembly.

Before he formally entered politics, Mamdani also worked as a housing counsellor for a non-profit organisation named Chhaya CDC, which helped poorer citizens to fight eviction from their homes. But he was better known as Mr Cardamom, which was his rapper name. Last year, Mamdani’s music video for “Nani”, starring the evergreen actress Madhur Jaffrey went viral, as much due to Mamdani’s rap as Jaffrey’s infectious charm, even at 85 years old.

Mamdani’s term will begin in January next year, but he must likely have been preparing for this moment for months already. In June 2019, he beat long-serving incumbent Aravella Simotas to win the Democractic primary and receive the ticket. In this election, running unopposed under his slogan of “Roti and Roses” in a district with a significant South Asian presence, his victory was virtually in the bag.

Mamdani will serve as a Member of the New York State Assembly for two years in his first term.