EAST ELMHURST — The first candidate to throw his hat in the ring against Sen. Jose Peralta says he can represent his district better than the current senator — even though he won’t legally be allowed to vote until months before the election.
Tahseen Chowdhury, 16, announced his candidacy last week, inspired by the grass-roots campaigning of Bernie Sanders. He said he was emboldened to take on the Independent Democratic Conference, which Peralta joined this winter, because he believes the senator's new alliance tricks the community.
“I felt that now was the right time to jump in,” he told DNAinfo over a chocolate milkshake at the Court Square Diner in Long Island City, which is on the way from his hour and a half commute between East Elmhurst to Stuyvesant High School, where he’s a junior.
People are sick of the “establishment candidates,” he said — and are looking for someone who cares more about the people than the politics. His website declares his only special interest is the community.
“I have literally zero special interests,” he said. “I don’t owe anybody anything.”
Chowdhury got his first taste of politics running for student council at P.S. 122 Mamie Fay, a gifted and talented school in Astoria.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just doing it for fun,” he said.
“You put yourself out there and you figure out what kind of things you like, you look at what issues there are and you just want to advocate and stand up for it.”
As the current Student Union president at Stuyvesant, and the Manhattan Borough Student President, he’s learned about compromise — but also sticking to the issues that matter, he said.
So far, his campaign relies on volunteers and friends, with around 20 other students at some of the city’s top high schools helping him out.
Chowdhury coded his own website, and had talented friends take his official photo in front of the Unisphere. He also has experience with internet and online marketing, having worked for Khan Tutorial since the eighth grade — a job he pitched himself, handing the owners a business card.
"[The staff] know I’m a serious person and a serious candidate, they know how I operate and they appreciate it,” he said of his staff.
“They like doing it, it’s a lot of fun. Figuring this stuff out is also cool and exciting.”
Chowdhury’s focus now is on fundraising, and he hopes to raise half a million dollars by January 2018.
In the coming months he’ll be working on getting his name out in the community and is hoping for small, local donations to boost his campaign.
“It’s very ambitious but I think I can get there,” he said.
He hopes his campaign brings out the youth vote, who may feel disenfranchised.
If he wins, he said he’d try to start college up in Albany in the spring semester, working it around his senate schedule.
His parents, who are “generally supportive of everything I do,” made him promise he’d go to college, he said.
But if he loses, he said it will be worth it if more people learn about the IDC.
“My goal is to make sure Peralta is out of office,” he said. “Whatever does that, does that.”