Satyendra Huja

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[ From the archives of the Times of India]

‘Urban Turban’: Sikh is mayor of historic US city

Chidanand Rajghatta TNN

Washington: A turbaned Sikh-American has been elected mayor of a historic US city most famously associated with founding father Thomas Jefferson, attesting both to the town’s embrace of diversity and the efforts of the Sikh community to be a part of the American mainstream. Satyendra Huja, 70, was voted mayor of Charlottesville by the City Council this week, capping a three-decade long public service record in the 50,000-strong community that is home to three American presidents – Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison (from nearby Orange), and the University of Virginia (UVA), which Jefferson founded in 1819.

Sikh activism in the US has been an inspiring story for other minorities. The community has worked strenuously after racial and ethnic profiling setbacks post-9/11 to educate Americans about the religion and its adherents and the pay-off has been handsome and visible. “There are not too many communities in America where a guy with a beard and turban who doesn’t look mainstream can get elected,” Huja, who was once dubbed “Urban Turban” by resident businessmen, told a local newspaper after his victory. “And I think people realize that I do have some skills and qualities of use that are more important than what I look like.” Indeed, resident activists speak highly of Huja’s involvement in city and community planning for more than 30 years, including during his years as director of strategic planning for the city from 1998 to 2004. An adjunct professor in the Architecture School at the UVA, he was elected to city council in 2007 and 2011 and is its senior most and longest serving member.

Born in Kohat in present day Pakistan, Huja came to the US in 1966 as an undergraduate and studied at Cornell and Wesleyan before earning a master’s degree in urban planning from Michigan State University. He moved to Charlottesville in 1973, when he was hired as the director of city planning. After retiring in 2004, he made his first run for council in 2007 as a Democrat, and he was reelected to another four-year term on council last year, polling more votes than any other council member.

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