City Council Candidate Deepti Sharma took a winding path into local politics before deciding to run for the New York City Council.
The Flushing native volunteered for Fernando Ferrer’s mayoral campaign while she was still in college in 2005. She volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. Then she founded Food to Eat in 2011, a catering company that connects immigrant, women and minority owned restaurants with corporate clients. She liked bringing people from different walks of life together, she said.
And now she’s onto her next step: running to replace former City Councilmember Rory Lancman on the council in the District 24 special election.
Her business and activism experience bring something unique to the race, she said, and makes her the best candidate for the office.
“I feel as if that person should be me because of the fact that I have all this experience and have these networks that I’ve built that would be very beneficial to being in office,” she said.
For example, her business sense kicked in when she saw closed storefronts in the district while the activist in her noticed that there are a lack of options for childcare.
She said feels that the problem is that the area is in a rut.
“I feel like we’ve just allowed ourselves to be fine with the status quo,” she said.
The politicians who represented the district previously didn’t prioritize small businesses, Sharma said. She drew a link between their lack of support and the shut downs of small businesses on Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway. What’s more egregious to her, she said, is that there isn’t a local advocate owners can go to for support.
She sees small businesses as a crucial foundation for a thriving community, she said, where residents actually spend time in the neighborhoods they call home.
“I don’t want to see the Starbucks of the world coming here,” Sharma said. “I want to see the corner coffee shop that, like, is flourishing and thriving and the place where a lot of the people from the neighborhood actually walk through to go there instead of driving in their cars to other neighborhoods to get a good cup of coffee.”
If elected, she plans to work on making it easier for entrepreneurs to get access to capital, she said. Sharma has first hand experience of how hard it is to keep a business running.
“I’ve seen days where I wasn’t taking a paycheck because I wanted to make sure everybody on my team was being paid,” she said.
Money is something that Sharma thinks about a lot, both for herself as a business owner and for the working families in the district who struggle to make ends meet. The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown her business in March last year. And she wasn’t the only person whose business was hurting because she had to close shop. Other local businesses that she worked with were hurting too and needed help. Her clients, restaurant owners who she normally worked with were hurting too and they needed help. She prides herself on her catering business and its focus on immigrants, minorities and women, she said.
“We need to do something for these restaurants because they’re shutting down; they cannot be hurt,” she said.
Sharma helped to raise 130,000 dollars over a period of eight to ten weeks and used that money to purchase food from the restaurants that she worked with so they could stay afloat. COVID forced her to adapt, and it also made her think about how else she could advocate for her neighbors.
She decided to run for the New York City Council.
“I just started looking around and was like, I think it’s time,” she said.“I think it’s like a calling almost and it’s the perfect time for me to step up in another way.”
Sharma has built her platform on increasing access to capital for small business, improving access to health care, building more schools in the district and transportation among others. She sees transportation as key to economic revitalization.
“I grew up in an area of the district where there were no trains,” she said. “In order for me to get to a train I would have to take a 20 minute bus ride.”
Having more access to trains would allow people to get better paying jobs, she said. Her campaign stated there are no Citi Bike stations in the district and she wants to change that, she said. She wants to bring Citi Bike to District 24 and expand bike lanes for residents.
Her experiences as a mother have also shaped her campaign. The process of enrolling her older son in school last year revealed to her the lack of child care and after school programs in the district, she said. She spoke to another parent in the area who told her that there’d been a steady decline in resources for child care over the years.
“That was so disheartening,” she said. “What I thought still was there, isn’t.”
Sharma wants more schools built and more resources allocated to afterschool programs. She is also focused on ensuring that children with special needs are given adequate help by the city. Many of those children went through similar struggles Sharma went through as a kid, her parents trying to get her the best education possible. This is personal for Sharma, who remembers being sent as a middle schooler to classrooms of children with disabilities who made do without adequate resources.
Her memories of growing up in the neighborhood inform her campaign, she said. So does listening to her supporters because they’re not just voters –– they’re also neighbors.
“I can be a part of the solution by listening to people and understanding what their needs are and not forgetting them after they’ve voted for me,” she said.