Sri Kulkarni Leads Indo-American Candidates with a Landslide Runoff Win

Sri Kulkarni (center) celebrates the landslide win in District 22 runoff with his mother Margaret (left) and room full of volunteers at the victory party in Sugar Land.

Sri Kulkarni (center) celebrates the landslide win in District 22 runoff with his mother Margaret (left) and room full of volunteers at the victory party in Sugar Land.

By Pramod Kulkarni

SUGAR LAND: At about 9:40 pm on Tuesday, May 22 night, Sri Preston Kulkarni was in the middle of a speech thanking his volunteers for their dedication to the campaign in the packed party room at Club Louie in Town Center when Campaign Manager Karim Farista showed the screen of his phone. With quiet confidence, Kulkarni announced, “We won!” Immediately, everyone in the room rose up simultaneously and cheered with thunderous applause.

In a historic achievement, Kulkarni won the US Congressional Democratic Party runoff for District 22 against Black American leader Leticia Plummer. Kulkarni captured 62.1% or 9,502 votes against 37.9% or 5,794 votes for Plummer. District 22 extends from of Katy to Sugar Land and Pearland. Kulkarni will now face Rep. Pete Olson (Republican) in the mid-term Congressional elections on Nov. 6, 2018.

In the 7th Congressional District, which runs along west side of Harris County and has been held since 2001 by conservative Republican John Culberson, Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher handily won over challenger Laura Moser by 68% the vote to 32%. Moser was a favorite among Indian Americans as her husband, Arun Chowdhary, is of Indian origin. Chowdhary was an official videographer of the White House, from 2009-2011 during the Obama administration and then worked on the White House staff.

With his mother Margaret at his side, Sri Preston Kulkarni thanked his volunteers for the successful runoff campaign.

With his mother Margaret at his side, Sri Preston Kulkarni thanked his volunteers for the successful runoff campaign.

In other recently completed races in Sugar Land on May 5, incumbent Himesh Gandhi (4,353 votes) was unopposed in the race for city council member-at-large in Position 1. In the race for at-large Position 2, Jennifer Lane (3,432 votes) defeated write-in candidate Farha Ahmed (2,355 votes). Ahmed had previously run unsuccessfully for council in 2011.

The Indo-American community made extraordinary contributions to Kulkarni’s congressional campaign. Vijay Pallod remembers meeting Sri Kulkarni at the Meenakshi Temple in Pearland in the early months of the campaign. “He was all by himself,” Pallod recalls. “Within a month, we raised $30,000 to get his campaign off the ground in the first month and brought in a total of $45,000.”

Pallod remembers how hard Ramesh Bhutada worked to raise funds for the Kulkarni campaign. “Despite busy schedule, Ramesh met with community stalwarts, regardless of their party affiliation to bring their financial power to help Kulkarni.”

In his victory speech, Kulkarni thanked his opponents for raising the public interest for Democratic Party in a district that has been firmly in the Republican column in recent years. Kulkarni made it a point to thank just about every volunteer by name, including Campaign Manager Karim Farishta, who was the youngest staff member in the Obama White House and worked in the last days of the runoff campaign virtually without any sleep. Farishta has assembled a team of 120 youth and 600 adult volunteers to work on the campaign.

In thanking Ramesh Bhutada, Kulkarni said, “I lost my father when I was very young, but in this campaign, Rameshji has become like my father.”
Kulkarni also pointed out two strategies that brought success to the campaign. One was bringing out the Asian Americans to the voting booth. “I was told not to bother about the Asian-Americans because they don’t bother to vote. By bringing the turnout among Asian-Americans in record numbers, we showed that they didn’t vote earlier because nobody bothered about them.”

Sri Kulkarni’s second strategy is to build coalitions. “I would like to bring together people of all backgrounds and all ethnicities. We can win by building coalitions of all like-minded ethnicities – Asian-Americans, Black Americans, Hispanics and Whites.”

Kulkarni began his speech with a moment of silence for the victims of the Santa Fe High School shootings. In parallel, a vigil was taking place on the steps of Sugar Land City Hall. The candle-light vigil was organized by Syed Gardezi, Shahid Hasnain and Shagufta Hasnain.

Though saddened by the Santa Fe shootings, the campaign workers and well-wishers at Bar Louie were uplifted by Kulkarni’s landslide win. An additional happy outcome was the Houston Rockets’ close victory against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs just moments later.

The Sri Kulkarni campaign team appreciated the happy respite, but is now ready with the same quiet confidence of their candidate to take on the Republican machine in the mid-term elections.

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