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Surprise Democratic state Assembly primary winner Sarahana Shrestha looks to November

Sarahana Shresta
Sarahana Shrestha

An upset in last month’s Democratic primary for New York state Assembly has changed the political picture in the Hudson Valley.

Sarahana Shrestha, a justice and climate activist originally from Nepal, won the Democratic primary in the 103rd Assembly District, edging out 13-term Assemblymember Kevin Cahill.

Shrestha says victory was much appreciated after knocking on hundreds upon hundreds of doors from December right up to the election.

“We had been meeting a lot of people in the district and had a good sense that we had a lot of support, you know, we had good data on this being a very winnable race, being a very serious race," said Shrestha. "And as we met more people, you know, we kept building on that data of how much support there was, to vote for a candidate like me, however, you know, we never know who's going to show up on election day, and we knew that it was going to be difficult, nonetheless, to turn that support into votes.”

In addition to running as a Democrat, Shrestha is endorsed by the Mid-Hudson chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party. She hasn't spoken with Cahill.

"Kevin Cahill has posted on his Facebook, that, you know, he accepts this result; he's encouraged his supporters to throw their support behind me," Shrestha said. "I think it was pretty taxing for all parties involved. But I do appreciate the sort of, you know, his statement on the clear results of the election.”

The 103rd encompasses sections of Ulster and Dutchess Counties including the cities of Kingston and New Paltz. Shrestha says as the political landscape has shifted nationally, her perception of the issues facing the district and her focus on issues have not changed since the beginning of her campaign.

“We've always talked about our path to winning on these ideas, you know, climate, housing, healthcare, general quality of life, for people, we've always framed that as a challenge that requires building a grassroots movement that will make our democracy more democratic, you know, and what we're seeing nationwide is not a surprise because, you know, the right wing has been working on undoing our democratic rights, undoing our, you know, women's rights, reproductive rights, gun control, safety and such. They have been working on chipping those away. And we have always known that that's the main fight that we are up against,” said Shrestha.

Shrestha says her platform will contribute to strengthening the state Legislature and boost New York's position as a progressive leader.

“The same right wing megadonors are, you know, the ones who are undoing our Supreme Court, are also the same people who sent out very negative templated mailers not just against me, they spent $80,000 against me, but they also sent very similar mailers against all of the progressive challengers, because they know that this progressive momentum, the progressive movement, is what is eventually their biggest competition, their biggest threat,” Shrestha said.

Shrestha says she feels confident heading toward November. She adds not much is known about her GOP opponent, Patrick Sheehan.

“So the Republican candidate has not really campaigned, you know, we have been keeping an eye on that," said Shrestha. "We knew that he was getting on the ballot when we're petitioning. This district is a district where the Republicans have not really been able to put forward a serious candidate in a long time. It is a district that is, you know, heavily Democrat leaning, we also have a lot of independents, but you know, most of them lean towards the left, rather than towards the right. So we feel, you know, we feel like the real challenge of November is just reaching more residents of this district, to really talk about our ideas and about our platform. Rather than just winning, you know, obviously, we want to win. But we are definitely trying to build a long term relationship, a long term movement, and get people on board to, you know, have clarity on what's on the table, and what we want to win on.”

Shrestha says her victory has reinforced her commitment to serving in public office.

"We've always said that winning this race would just be the beginning," said Shrestha. "And I think, you know, I'm sure there are many people who haven't quite understood why I ran for office, especially as looking at it from the outside maybe. And, you know, I've always said that I'm not running against a particular person or a particular incumbent, I was running to change the culture of our government. And, you know, we have not won on that yet. So I will say, again, that this is the beginning. And we have a lot of work to do.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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