There are many similarities between the four Indian American mayoral candidates of the Californian suburban city of San Ramon. They all love their city, were all born in India, are all highly educated, worked their way up to become accomplished professionals, and have never been mayor before.
There are six mayoral candidates in the 2020 elections with 41,000 voters in a population of 72,148, as per 2010 census. San Ramon is a diverse community with 53.6% Caucasian, 35.6% Asian, and 8.7% Latino population. The Indian American candidates have been campaigning for the last few months, convinced that their spiel will keep San Ramon’s natural beauty and social fabric vibrant.
Susmita Nayak finds this race to be her calling. A San Ramon resident for 15 years, she and her husband raised their two children here, made successful careers in RF engineering and software management. As the daughter of an Indian Air Force Officer, she had the experience of growing up in many cities across India. She remembers her late parents’ strengths, is grateful that they supported her life decisions and influenced her to always speak up. San Ramon’s City Walk plan propelled her towards this race.
Last year she started learning about the implications of the project and felt the need to make her voice heard. Susmita ran for City Council in 2016 and that experience is helping in her campaign. She has raised small-dollar individual contributions and does not believe in accepting funds from corporations, organizations, not even the Chamber of Commerce, where she is in the board of directors. Susmita, a small business owner, will focus on the economy, job creation, and help businesses recover from the downfall. She wants to work towards the municipal fibre optic connection, fiscal accountability, green spaces, and traffic management.
“We are fortunate to live in such a vibrant city that embraces inclusion and diversity. Our city needs strong leadership that leads us to a better future,” her website says.
Sanat Sethy has lived in San Ramon for 13 years. He and his wife have raised two children here. He was born in Bhubaneshwar, studied to be a mechanical engineer and is now a businessman. The increasing population of San Ramon compared to that of Danville in the last 20 years, bothers Sanat Sethy. He contested in 2018, and that is an advantage as residents know him. He is against golf courses being dismantled. According to Sanat, the City Walk is a project that can be handled well with cheaper homes and more businesses which bring in taxes.
His goal as mayor, as his website says, “My mission as mayor of San Ramon is to build a more transparent and collaborative local government, to increase the communication between the city and the school board, to reduce crowding in schools by advocating to fund a new high school, to preserve the tranquil beauty of San Roman’s parks, hills and golf courses, and to prevent and solve traffic congestion.” He also plans to better San Ramon by decreasing fees for using parks for sports leagues. Sanat Sethy has also accepted only individual donations to his campaign fund. He also spoke about a political stunt against him. He was criticized for not attending a recent forum hosted by Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties advocacy group. Sanat is of the view that CAIR is focused on national issues, while he is more focused on what is important to San Ramon.
Aparna Madireddi was born in Jammu and studied in a boarding school in Dalhousie in India. Her dad was in the Indian Army and she felt privileged to have a voice growing up, and was taught to persevere. These are the values she carries in all her work. She strives to protect the suburban fabric of San Ramon which she calls home for many years. Aparna and her husband raised their daughter here and has been very active in city council meetings, planning commissions meetings, rotary club, etc. Founding member of the San Ramon Valley Diversity Coalition Committee, she ran for the city council in 2018. She had help from PTA and friends in the community. That was a learning ground which is helping her in the current campaign. She has raised the most funds of all candidates in this race and 91% of them have come from city residents and businesses. Former San Ramon mayor Greg Carr, is her campaign manager. He learned about Aparna in the last two years, “I saw Aparna attend every meeting, she was everywhere. She is on the Open Space Committee. She is the kind of person I see very few of and I am an old guy. I listen to her, she is smart, she investigates and becomes knowledgeable, and finds the truth by digging into details. She has class, poise, grit, determination, and is not afraid to stand up to anyone. It is hard to get people to part with their money in every country and culture, especially now, especially for a political campaign. Aparna has demonstrated her interest in the citizens of this city, understanding how government works. What stands out for me is that she gets calls from people who are new, and asking for help, and she is not even an elected candidate yet.”
Aparna has lived in San Ramon for 22 years and has a supportive family. This helped her come out stronger after receiving a hate-filled, racist email in June. She reported it to the police but stayed undeterred.
Her ‘residents first’ vision for the city according to her campaign website is ambitious, and some of the significant issues include – Steps for us to become prudent and develop a practical strategy to reduce the red ink that’s already in the books before taking on any new debt. In a post-pandemic world, open spaces will play an even bigger role in our health and well-being. We have to solve our own affordable housing problems, eg. for aging parents, as and when they come up by being prepared to address them ahead of time. Make a reasonable effort to reduce the City’s dependence on fossil fuels by using renewable sources of energy. The safety and well-being of our children and their education is my priority. I will be ensuring that the School Board, an independent agency doesn’t come under our City’s jurisdiction, listens to the voices of residents.
Dr Dinesh Govindarao has been associated with San Ramon the longest of all candidates – 41 years. His parents moved here in 1979, when it was a small town. San Ramon was incorporated as a city in 1983. Dr Govindarao, born in Indore in India, is an occupational environmental medicine expert who works for health and safety of workers, as a chief medical officer for a state medical agency. He and his wife raised their four children here. He volunteered as a sports coach for over 12 years, on the board of the PTA, and in school arts programs. He realized that the current mayor will be termed out and his beloved city will need a pandemic response. He feels that San Ramon needs a pioneer medical response as usually non-medical people take medical response decisions. His focus will be on how to keep residents safe while opening San Ramon businesses and the economy. His deep roots in the city have helped him raise funds. He wants inclusivity amidst diversity in San Ramon. He has seen the city grow very and wants to take a balanced approach to the City Walk, ‘If you resist the state about the number of new homes to be built, it can come back to bite you with new adverse zoning rules. Based on that we have made the best decision. The city walk makes sense to put new smaller condos and townhome homes in the core of the city. They give future generations a chance to have a home here, and is a viable option for them for seniors looking to downsize. But infrastructure has to be in place to support the project and it has to communicate properly to residents.”
Another factor common between these four candidates is the support of their families and friends that they enjoy. They have a non-partisan agenda and are not officially affiliated with any political party. Including the candidates running for city council, there are eight desi candidates in a total field of 12, in the San Ramon 2020 elections.