New York City Council Candidate Soma Syed remembers the day she first laid eyes on her neighborhood in Queens.
“It was a beautiful day,” she said. “I will not forget July 26, 1989.”
Syed had just arrived in Jamaica, Queens from Bangladesh with her family by way of an overnight stop in Karachi. She was just barely 12 years old.
“I had no idea where I was going. My parents told me to go on the plane. I saw everyone crying back in Bangladesh. I guess I cried too,” she said. “To me it was like one big adventure. We got to New York, I didn’t even know where we were going.”
Now, more than 30 years later, Syed is running for the New York City Council in the hopes of representing District 24, the part of Queens that she moved to after disembarking from that plane all those years ago.
A lawyer with a longtime private practice in Jamaica, Syed decided it was time to run for office this past July after months of urging from friends and colleagues in the community. She’d looked at the names coming forward to replace their term-limited councilmember and nobody stood out to her as a candidate that could properly represent the district, she said.
“I have to come forward. And I have to run,” she recounted telling herself at the time. “This is what my calling is now. I wanted to be an attorney. I’ve done that. And now this is what I want to do.”
When she launched her campaign, she was planning on a primary in June 2021 followed by a general election in November. But then City Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica) announced he was leaving office early to join Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. His departure triggered a special election which is set to take place on February 2, 2021.
Syed is up against at least seven other people vying for Lancman’s empty seat in the February special election. They will be the first round of candidates to test out the city’s new ranked choice voting system.
Syed describes herself having both progressive and centrist policies.
“It’s an overlap between progressive and and then center ideas because that’s what the district is actually,” she said about her platform.
She’s a candidate for “justice,” she said –– education justice, criminal justice reform, healthcare justice, environmental justice, economic justice, housing justice.
Single payer healthcare, building more affordable housing and a Municipal Green New Deal are among some of the solutions she supports for fixing the city’s ills. But she also has some less talked about ideas such as a $1000 basic income for small businesses, and replacing the Civilian Complaint Review Board with a new department in each District Attorney’s office devoted solely to investigating police misconduct.
“I’m keenly aware of the inequities and discrimination. At the same time, I’m aware of what my district is facing, the people who live there,” she said.
As a lawyer and the president of the Queens County Women’s Bar Association, Syed said she feels more than prepared to start drafting and debating laws if she’s elected to the city council.
“I’ll be ready on day one. I don’t have to get ready,” she said. “That gives you an extra edge.”
Syed wants to continue to serve her community, she said, During the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, she helped with clean up in Far Rockaway and provided landlord-tenant dispute advice. In 2017 when President Donald Trump announced his controversial travel ban, she went to John F. Kennedy airport and joined the protests. More recently, during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, she posted informational videos in English and Bengali for small business owners and distributed N95 masks. Joining the New York City Council is a way for her to continue this work, she said.
“This is what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working for the people and with the community on their issues,” she said. “I can work with people who might not share my policies, my beliefs, but I’m also not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and that’s justice, equity, fairness in every transaction we do.”