Opinion: Montgomery Needs Policies in Place That Meet Changing Needs of Community

This election year we have a unique opportunity to elect a new yet experienced voice to the decision-making table.
I am running for one of Montgomery County’s four at-large county council seats. I have lived in the county for 18 years, since I moved here from India for a better future. That is what I want for every family in our community.
Montgomery County is very diverse, and we are faced with unique challenges today because of the demographic change that in the last decade has transformed Montgomery County into a majority minority community.
In choosing our representatives, it is important that the council reflect the change we see in our community so we can fully represent the concerns and meet the needs of our diverse communities.
We talk about closing the growing divide and about equity and social justice, but how can we accomplish that for our county and communities if we do not have diversity of experience and perspective and the gender and racial balance on the council?
 As the first Indian American woman running for county council, I would bring this much-needed diversity for our county. I also bring my deep commitment to local communities, which is why I have chosen to run for local public office. I have led initiatives on a range of issues, including public education, immigration, health care, affordable housing and transportation. I have been a leader at nonprofit and community organizations, working in collaboration with various stakeholders to help close opportunity gaps, support student success and help working families get resources for a better quality of life. I have been a connector, building partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits to support needs in our community.
My record as a grassroots advocate over the past 16 years, actively engaged in the civic and political life of our county, demonstrates my commitment to public service. I have been an active board member of the Kensington Heights Civic Association and president of the Takoma Foundation. I have been a president of the Parent Teacher Association of local schools and served on the board of PTA at the Montgomery County Council and Maryland State. I am a founding member of Maryland Welcomes Refugees and chairwoman of Takoma Park Welcoming Group of Syrian Families.
Serving on the Montgomery County Commission of Children and Youth and being a member of other county committees, such as the Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Advisory Committee and Kensington Park Library Advisory Committee, has given me an understanding on other challenges and priorities for our community.
My grassroots work has been augmented by my political engagement, through several years of advocacy to local, county and state government, my testimonies for school funding and my support of various legislative bills.  Currently, I serve as the vice chairwoman of the District 18 Caucus where I am a precinct chair and as a board member of the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County. I was a lead organizer for the Women’s March on Washington in Montgomery County on behalf of the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County and have organized community gatherings in the spirit of leading the Montgomery Way.
My focus in all these forums over the last 16 years has been the same: to close the many opportunity gaps for families, and to break barriers to advance the social, environmental, economic, educational and cultural interests of all our communities.
I am deeply concerned about the growing unmet needs of our community and the increasing economic disparity in our county. I will make that a focus when elected as a councilmember.
As a foreign born national who moved here as an adult, and as a mom raising two teenage children, I understand the cultural, social and other challenges of many families in our diverse county, that need to be addressed to close the growing divide.
As a council member, I will continue this agenda, including:

  • Closing the opportunity gap and enabling student success by supporting universal pre-kindergarten, expanding vocational, tech and after-school programs to expand learning opportunities and making free community college accessible. As a former MCPS part-time educator, working in classrooms with students has given me great insights into the academic needs of students and challenges many of our families have that impact student success.
  • Supporting our small businesses and strengthening the business climate to boost the local economy. I have studied business administration and my experience working in multinational US corporate organizations will be an asset.
  • Investing in our transportation infrastructure so that public transit options are available for all communities across Montgomery County. One of my goals would be to make Metro and Ride On free at all hours, for students and seniors.
  • Increasing accessibility to affordable housing so that teachers, police officers, firefighters and others who serve our county can afford to live here. My work with resettlement agencies helping families resettle gives me a special insight into the dire need for affordable housing.
  • Investing in health care programs. My work on the commission and other groups has given me insights on the critical needs.
  • Improving and investing in services for seniors and people with special needs.

My personal experiences as an immigrant and my professional experience on all the issues important to all of us make me stand out among the 33 candidates running for county council at-large. My candidacy offers a unique opportunity to elect a grassroots leader who has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service, a candidate who would reflect the diversity of our community, and would thereby bring a valuable, perspective to the county council.
These are all critical factors to consider when you cast your vote, and as we put in place policies that meet the needs of our changing community, so that this county continues to thrive and be a welcoming place for all, where all families have access to opportunities and resources they need to have a better quality of life.
I am running a strong grassroots campaign, powered not by money but by an amazing team of volunteers, that reflects the diversity of our county.
SHRUTI BHATNAGAR
The writer is a Democratic candidate for one of four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council. Follow her on Facebook.

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