In an interview, Pureval said when he launched his first campaign for office in 2016, some Democrats tried to convince him not to run at all for fear that his background and name made him ineligible. Now Pureval says he has shown that his track record matters most – and people no longer viewed his background as negative either.
“[Everybody] would tell me, ‘There’s no way a brown guy named Aftab is going to win a district seat in Cincinnati,’ said Pureval. He added, “Now people are telling me, ‘I can’t run and win because my name is Joe Smith.’ So there is a tipping point where the perceived weakness of our community becomes a real strength, but it takes a lot of time and effort to get to that point. ”
About 6 percent of the US population are AAPIs. But while records were recently set for representation in Congress with 18 AAPI Senators and Representatives of the House of Representatives – a shade over 3 percent of Congress – representation at the city level is even further behind the population. In the area 2 percent of the elected city officials were Asian-Americans from 2020, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign.
AAPI candidates running for high profile local races are a “slightly newer dynamic,” said Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, an organization focused on voter mobilization and education.
“In the long run, we need a very, very long local bank so that we have more in Congress and more AAPI governors,” Nikore said, adding that high-level civil service entry could continue to grow as a notable profession among Asian- American communities.
However, according to Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke, president of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, a nonprofit that helps Asian candidates, the candidacy was primarily a systemic barrier for members of the AAPI communities. People could be motivated to run for office, she said, but they could be deterred by traditional “rules of engagement” for elections or a lack of resources.
Pureval, Wu and Harrell – all three are Democrats, although their elections are technically impartial – have all held elected offices for several years and entered their mayoral candidates already known in their communities. There is a perception that AAPI candidates cannot run or win because they don’t have enough Asian Americans in their district, Mielke said, but the data shows that most current national and local AAPI leaders represent regions that are not majority are asian.