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Former Bhutanese refugee challenging Syracuse council’s only Republican

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Jay Subedi (right) with state Sen. Rachel May at the Northeast Community Center in Syracuse.

A number of former refugees are running for office in Syracuse this year. One of them looks to challenge the city’s only Republican councilor.

Jay Subedi was born in Bhutan and became a refugee at the age of 12. Before coming to Syracuse in 2008, he spent 17 years at a refugee camp in Nepal.

“But that taught me so much,” Subedi said. “I’m here today to give back. My experience as a person who live in a refugee camp, very under poverty, where there is no better education, no good sleeping nights, no good water to drink every day.”

Subedi, a Democrat, owns a small grocery store and a home care company. He said he wants to make a difference in his community and address challenges like vacant houses, homeownership and creating a business friendly neighborhood.

Two other Democrats and former refugees, Chol Majok and Emad Rahim, are collecting petitions in a separate race, challenging the council’s newest member, Bryn Lovejoy-Grinnell, in a June primary.

“We are here not to be only a citizen, we are here as a voice, we are here to make a difference, and we are here to contribute to the community,” Subedi said.

Subedi is the designated Democratic candidate running in a district with a large immigrant and refugee population. It’s currently represented by Republican Common Councilor Joe Carni, who said he’s running for reelection as an independent voice among a council of Democrats.

“I’m usually a different voice, or a different point of view,” Carni said. “I think it’s important to have that in democracy. You need a balance of going back and forth and meeting somewhere in the middle.”

Carni also manages a specialty food store, working alongside his mother, who was born in Greece.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.