Raj Salhotra, Son of Indian Immigrants, Announces Run for Houston City Council

Raj Salhotra takes a selfie with his supporters.

BY POOJA SALHOTRA

When I entered Chapman & Kirby on Wednesday evening, it felt like high school all over again. I didn’t recognize many people, and upon introducing myself to anyone in the room, I was met with the same reaction: wide eyes, a broad grin and immediate reverence. Similar to when I was a freshman in high school, strangers gave me an underserved level of admiration, simply because I was Raj’s younger sister. Only this time, people’s respect stemmed not from my brother’s popularity, good grades or side business as a DJ, but from his passion to create a better Houston for everyone.
Raj, who graduated from Harvard Law School last year, deferred a corporate firm job at Baker Botts and instead committed to public service in Houston. On Wednesday evening, in a room full of over 200 supporters, Raj officially announced his candidacy for Houston City Council At-Large Position 1.

“I am running for Houston City Council to build one Houston,” Raj said. “To build a Houston where we can all reach our dreams. I fundamentally believe that starts with economic opportunity, improving our quality of life and building a resilient city.”

Raj is challenging incumbent Mike Knox, vying for one of the five at-large seats on the Council. Unlike the district seats representing a specific geographic area, at-large positions represent the entire city of over 640 square miles and more than 2 million people.

At 28 years old, Raj will likely be the youngest candidate on the ballot this November. The son of Atul and Poonam Salhotra, Raj grew up in Bellaire, Texas and attended St. John’s School.
He grew up Hindu and currently serves as the president of the Young Hindus of Greater Houston (YHGH). After graduating cum laude in 2012, he went on to Rice University where he studied economics and public policy and tutored low-income high school and middle school students. While in college, Raj spent a semester interning in the Obama White House, an experience that he says shaped his political aspirations.

Upon graduating from Rice in 2013, Raj joined Teach for America as a high school calculus and statistics teacher at YES Prep Southwest, a charter school serving predominantly low-income, minority students.

As a teacher, Raj saw students struggle to achieve academic success because of problems they faced outside of the classroom – crippling poverty, even homelessness in some cases. This experience inspired Raj to create SWAG to College, a mentorship organization helping 600 underserved students get into and thrive in college. Raj’s experience as a teacher, coupled with his upbringing as the child of Indian immigrants, together motivated his decision to run for office.

“The city of Houston, and this country more broadly, has helped my family live the American Dream,” he said. “As a teacher and non-profit leader, I have worked with hundreds of students who have the exact same aspirations as I do, whose parents work just as hard as my parents do, […] but unfortunately, because of policy issues and structural inequalities, they are trapped in poverty.”

Raj’s campaign promise is to serve as an advocate for all Houstonians. He referenced one of his former students who wanted to attend Lone Star Community College but did not have a car. That student takes the bus every day, spending three hours on a commute that would take thirty minutes by car. Raj intends push for a stronger public transit system and to work with METRO to increase bus services to underserved areas.

He also referenced a Rice student who was injured in a bike accident. It is unacceptable that 2000 Houstonians have been injured or killed from a bike accident in the last four years, he said, advocating for Vision Zero, the elimination of all traffic fatalities and injuries.

Over the next several months, Raj plans to listen to concerns from Houstonians; he even gave out his personal cell phone number – “the same number my mom uses to call me.”
“You all are the employer and the boss, and I am the public servant and employee,” he said. “Ultimately, the job of a public servant is an advocate. It’s an advocate for folks who have traditionally been left out. It’s an advocate for folks who don’t necessarily have the time or the wherewithal to go speak out on their causes, but their causes are important.”

On Wednesday, Raj used his platform to advocate for Liyna, a 29-year-old South Asian journalist in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. Volunteers from Be the Match Registry set up a table so that attendees of Raj’s campaign kick-off could sign up to determine if they are a blood match with Liyna.

To find out more about Raj’s campaign, visit his website here: https://www.rajforhouston.com/

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