Iranian American Citizen Congressman
Albany, NY, - Darius Shahinfar lost his bid to become the Democratic nominee last Tuesday in a race to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Representative Mike McNulty in the 21st Congressional District of New York. Although his bid to become the first American of Iranian heritage to serve in the U.S. Congress fell short, Shahinfar’s campaign did receive a tremendous amount of financial and grass roots support from the Iranian American community and beyond, prompting expectations of a promising future in New York State politics.
Former New York State Assemblyman Paul Tonko outdistanced four other challengers to grab the Democratic nomination. Tonko picked up 39% of the 37,000 votes cast in the 21st Congressional District. Tracey Brooks, a former aide to Senator Hillary Clinton, finished second with 30% of the vote, while Shahinfar received 10% support.
A former Congressional Aid and Deputy County Attorney, Shahinfar ran for Congress because he believes that America must work better for all Americans and that we must repair our relations with the rest of the world. The theme of his campaign was to “Renew America’s Promise,” which was subsequently picked up as one of the major subject matters during the Democratic National Convention.
Throughout the campaign, Shahinfar conveyed his pride in being a first generation Iranian American. He spoke openly about his heritage and his family’s immigrant experience. As a result, his campaign attracted the attention of Iranian Americans throughout the nation. From the east coast to the west coast Iranian Americans organized events and raised funds for Shahinfar’s campaign. “I think many people saw in Shahinfar an opportunity to take action and expand the profile of the Iranian American community,” explained Morad Ghorban of IAPAC. “They saw a well spoken candidate with experience in government and a real understanding of the issues, and took it upon themselves to support Shahinfar knowing full well his dark horse status but with an eye on his future potential.”
Keeping pace with his competitors, Shahinfar raised over $320,000 for his campaign. A significant portion, approximately 200,000, came from the Iranian American community. “The level of enthusiasm my candidacy has generated in the Iranian American community has been deeply moving for me and my family. The support allowed me to spend more time in the district, knocking on doors and introducing myself to the voters,” Shahinfar said. "With the support of PAAIA, IAPAC, and their networks, I was able to run a full fledged, competitive campaign."
In the closing weeks of the campaign, Shahinfar purchased 200 hours of television time and sent out mass mailings to the people of the 21st Congressional District. Insider polling indicated that while Tonko had significant name recognition, there were still a large number of undecided voters in the district. Unfortunately for Shahinfar and the rest of the field, Tonko was able to take full advantage of his name ID and handily won the election with a ratio of 3-1 coming from his home base of Schenectady and Montgomery Counties, giving him the edge against his opponents.
“While we are all disappointed in the results, it is important to understand that political success is not an overnight process,” explains Babak Hoghooghi, Executive Director of PAAIA. “Shahinfar, a relative political neophyte a few months ago, was able to raise a substantial amount of funds for his campaign and run a very respectable campaign. As a result, he is being openly spoken of as a future force in New York State politics and that is something that we can point to with pride."
Indeed, Shahinfar plans on remaining active in his community and in New York State Politics. He will campaign for the Democratic nominee. On Tuesday night, Shahinfar joined his opponent’s victory party and declared that he will support the Democratic nominee to the raucous approval of the Tonko supporters on hand, a move that one observer called a total “Class Act.”