Get to Know Our Local Democrats: City Councilman Ash Kalra
First elected in 2008 in the historic wave that swept President Obama into office, City Councilman Ash Kalra made history that year himself, becoming the first Indian-American elected to the city council of a major city. Now in his second term, Kalra is known primarily as a fighter for working families and an advocate for the under-served -- his recent push for predatory payday lending regulations is a case in point. He also serves as the Chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the vice-chair of the VTA and is on CalTrain’s board.
Kalra was born in Toronto and moved to San Jose when he was just six years old. Today, he represents the same neighborhood he grew up in, just around the corner from Hayes Elementary and close to Oak Grove, both schools he attended. He was drawn to public service early on, though running for political office never crossed his mind. Instead, inspired by the fact that many of the great civil rights leaders – including Mahatma Ghandi – were lawyers, Kalra headed to east to earn his law degree from Georgetown University after his graduation from U.C. Santa Barbara. There, he found his calling in clinical work that allowed him to teach in D.C. high schools or represent tenants in landlord-tenant disputes. Returning home, he worked for 11 years as a public defender, which gave him a keen understanding of the critical role social services play in keeping neighborhoods livable and families healthy.
It was while he was waiting to pass the bar that Kalra first volunteered for the Democratic Party, which offered him a job (and an education in grassroots politics) running a satellite office for the party in East San Jose. While he worked as an attorney, he threw himself into a seemingly unending stream of volunteer opportunities, including Fresh Lifelines for Youth, Asian Law Alliance, and Somos Mayfair, to name a few. He also served on the San Jose Human Rights Commission, as well as the Planning Commission, and helped launch the Hayes Neighborhood Association. Throughout, he remained a fixture in the local Democratic Party, working on behalf of candidates and issues that embodied Democratic values.
“I fight for a system that allows everyone to have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” says Kalra. “Of course we should be rewarded for our personal effort, but we should never forget that we’re all in this together – our neighbors’ health and well-being matters to all of us.” Kalra is a big believer in grassroots action. “Ultimately, it is up to us to push for financial reform, access to healthcare for all, marriage equality, renewable energy, and campaign finance reform.” He adds, “Democrats are on the right track on all of these matters, but we still have some distance to go against a conservative tide that is hell-bent on stopping us.”
Find out more about what City Councilman – and great local Democrat – Ash Kalra is doing for his constituents and our community by visiting his website here.