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Bellerose Sikh running for office to give South Asians a voice

Swaranjit Singh wants the city to hear the concerns of South Asians, and he is giving 102,000 reasons why it should.

Singh, a Bellerose resident, Community Board 13 member and candidate for City Councilman David Weprin’s (D−Hollis) seat, raised $102,171 in the last six months for his campaign — the largest amount raised in that period for any non−incumbent Council candidate in the city, according to city Campaign Finance Board records.

In conjunction with his campaign, Singh said he plans to found a citywide political group to give South Asians a bigger say in city politics.

The so−called Roti Club, named after the Indian bread eaten by South Asians and Indo−Caribbeans, was thought up by Abhijit Rikhy — Singh’s son, who serves as his campaign treasurer and consultant.

“That’s our commonality and people get together based on their common interests and that’s our common interest,” said Rikhy, 26.

“My biggest goal is to unite the roti−eating people. Only when we are united, that’s the way we can get any [political] positions,” Singh said during an interview last week at his Bellerose real estate office. “Once the people are united, then we can have a representative in the Assembly, state Senate. We can make a difference in the mayoral election, comptroller election.”

Aside from his real estate business, Singh, who moved to the United States from India in 1982 and has lived in the council district since 1988, also teaches tolerance, diversity and respect for other cultures to community groups and corporations.

The Bellerose resident said he turned to President Barack Obama’s election as inspiration for his campaign.

“Change is already happening in the country and we’re taking it to the local level now,” he said, noting that the South Asian population in the district he is running in — Bellerose, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park, Floral Park, Queens Village and parts of Fresh Meadows, Bayside, Cambria Heights and Douglaston — increased to 34.7 percent in 2008 from 25 percent in 2000.

Singh’s goal is to raise $180,000 for the Council race and he is more than halfway there.

“I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg,” he said, noting that he has only held two fund−raisers so far and has yet to start a Web site.

Nearly 97 percent of his 681 campaign contributions are from Sikhs in the district and Richmond Hill, but Singh said he would be a representative for the all the people who live in the district.

“I’m not becoming a councilman for my community,” he said, referring to South Asians.

Even with his large war chest, Singh pegged himself as an “underdog” because he would be running against state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D−Little Neck), who announced he was interested in the seat to be closer to his family and to have more of an influence over the city’s education policy.

Weprin’s younger brother, David Weprin, is running for comptroller, making the seat an open one in November.

“For me to run against a Weprin name, I have to work three times harder,” Singh said. “They have Democratic Party support, district leaders’ support and a recognizable name. Breaking that barrier is very hard work.”

Singh also acknowledged that he may have difficulty with being perceived as a terrorist or a Muslim because of his long beard and turban. Sikhs are frequently confused with the Taliban because of their attire, even though the turban is only worn by Sikhs, and they have been victims of numerous hate crimes following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“People might think I’m part of the Taliban or a first cousin to Osama,” he said. “I have nothing to do with the Taliban or Osama.” I have to educate my fellow New Yorkers that I’m a Sikh and that my religion is Sikhism.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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