First Indian-American in N.J. legislature makes Congressional bid

A lively race is brewing among central New Jersey Democrats running for the seat now held by Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th District), who is retiring after this year. One contender is the first Indian-American elected to the state legislature, six-term Assemblyman Upendra Chivakula.

 Chivakula came to the U.S. from India to attend graduate school and pursue a career in engineering. Holt is a plasma physicist often referred to as a “rocket scientist,” and the 63 year-old Chivakula says his technical background makes him a perfect successor.

Chivakula says English is the fourth language he learned, and he knows he speaks with a discernible accent. But he said his background hasn’t kept him from connecting with voters. He was elected to the Franklin Township Council, and then the mayor’s office.

“They see beyond my accent,” Chivakula said. “People look beyond the skin color and all that. I think what is most important that strikes people when I meet them is that I bring a breath of fresh air. I bring a new approach to problem solving of today’s challenges.”

Chivakula will be facing two colleagues in the June 3rd Democratic primary: State Sen. Linda Greenstein and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.

The sprawling 12th congressional district, friendly country for Democrats, stretches across the middle of New Jersey, covering parts of Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union Counties.

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