Poor turnout led to defeat of Guyanese in NY city council nomination race

Stabroek News
September 30, 2001

Dear Editor,

The bulk of the Indo-Guyanese voters in the Richmond Hill-Ozone Park area, the heartland of the Indo-Guyanese-American community, failed to turn out at the polls last Tuesday leading to the defeat of Guyanese Trevor Rupnarian in the race for the nomination for the Democratic party for City Council.

Trevor obtained 2400 votes against his opponents 4100 and 3800. Trevor had counted on obtaining more than 4000 votes and was confident of a victory because Guyanese assured him that they would turn out to the polls and cast their ballots for him. But it was not to be.

Once again, Indo-Guyanese Americans have let down their candidate. There are approximately 4,500 registered Guyanese voters in the district and the overwhelming majority did not go out to the polls to cast their ballots.

There were 20 polling divisions in the district. At one polling division in Richmond Hill with 4500 registered voters (mostly Guyanese), only 138 voted. At another polling division with 1000 Indo-Guyanese registered voters, only 70 showed up at the poll. And at another site with 2500 Guyanese voters, only 225 showed up.

Many Afro-Guyanese came from Brooklyn to volunteer on Trevor's campaign and several Afro-Guyanese who live in the District told this writer they voted for Trevor. But from what poll watchers at the various polling sites reported to the campaign, less than 1000 Indo-Guyanese came out to vote. It was an arduous task to nudge them out of their homes to go out and cast their ballots.

Ever since they began settling in the US in large numbers in the 1980s, Indo-Guyanese hardly participate in the American political process unlike their Afro-Guyanese brethren in Brooklyn who make it their duty to go out to the polls on election day and vote for their preferred candidate. For Indo-Guyanese, merely coming to the US is an end of itself. Just being able to go to work, put food on the table, having a roof to live under and acquiring a vehicle is a final objective. Getting representation in political office is the least of their concerns. Participating in politics is not of importance to them and as evidenced last Tuesday, in spite of repeated appeals via phone calls, voting was the last thing on their minds. As one Indo-Guyanese put it: "A wha meh go get from voting. Ayuh go full yuh pocket."

Trevor ran for the City Council not to fill his pocket. In fact, the candidate said he spent over $200,000. He ran because he wanted to begin a process of political representation for the Guyanese community in the Richmond Hill area which has no representation in the corridors of political power. Indo-Guyanese number an estimated 100,000 in the Richmond Hill/Ozone area with an additional 100,000 Indo-Trinidadians. They have built a vibrant community by reclaiming run-down areas and completely transforming them into vibrant economic zones. They have energized the economy by revitalizing businesses and buttressing the professions. They also have turned dilapidated housing into modern houses leading to rising real estate value; in fact it is one of the most expensive real estate areas in the city. And they have contributed enormously to the tax coffers but gain little in terms of service for their financial contributions to the city and state. Although the community has financial power, political clout lags behind.

Trevor had hoped to bring political representation to the community and empower them. Through a core of volunteers, the campaign registered thousands and the candidate himself went house to house and community to community to campaign. Trevor explained to the community that to have proper representation and to obtain empowerment, they have to earn it by registering to vote and going to the polls on election day. He made it known to them that the election was not about him but about their lives and those of their children and the entire community and district. He appealed to them to awake from their slumber and become politically involved and to give him a chance to be their political servant.

But the Guyanese community did not heed his message. They have failed him and themselves. Trevor must not blame himself for this defeat. Trevor put up a gallant effort to seek political empowerment for Guyanese and he must be applauded for his hard work.

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram