This article is part of a series on figures who have declared their candidacy for Milpitas City Council or Mayor of Milpitas for November’s general election. The filing period for candidacy opened on July 13 and will close on August 7. Two City Council seats and the Mayor’s seat are up for grabs. The entire series can be found here.
When Suraj Viswanathan first ran for Milpitas City Council in 2018, he came in 5th in a field of 8 candidates. His campaign had been active and robust, complete with him, his wife, and their children walking the community, knocking on the doors of some 3,000 homes, but what he had in momentum he lacked in timing.
On Election Day in November, 2019, Viswanathan’s campaign drew high numbers, but he soon realized he hadn’t gone out forcefully enough in early October, when voters’ mail-in ballots were rolling in. He’d really ramped up his efforts by mid-late October, which, he said in an interview with The Beat, “I think was too late.”
This year, though, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there won’t be any knocking on doors. Of his current campaign, Viswanathan said, “The strategy is going to be mainly digital.”
This means newspaper and social media advertising. It also meant hiring Andrew Russo, who’s worked on thousands of political campaigns, as his campaign manager: “I have professional help. We have a budget, we have a calendar, we have a strategy in place.”
In addition, Viswanathan has secured commitments for signatures from 30 City of Milpitas commissioners, pledging their support of him and his campaign; 17 of the signatures were in ink by the time we spoke. He also sits on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), which oversees the use of the $284 million provided by the popular Bond Measure AA voted for by Milpitas residents in 2018.
Viswanathan, who graduated from Anna University in Chennai, India, before moving to Silicon Valley and establishing himself in the business community here, first contemplated running for Milpitas City Council while working on grassroots programs under the leadership of Congressman Ro Khanna. He pitched for Khanna door-to-door, and as a result started learning more about people’s local concerns. Said Khanna to Viswanathan, “Go ahead and find a solution; come back and solve their problem…”
In other words, Khanna was telling him to run for office. Meaningfully, the congressman added, “I will support you on your run.”
“That is when I started,” Viswanathan said.
Meanwhile, politics are also a part of his family history: “My dad is a politician. My dad was a Minister in India.” (He served one term in 1988.) “Half of my family,” Viswanathan added, “is into politics and half of them are into acting and [movies].”
Regarding Milpitas, and his current run, he said, “COVID-19 is my number one priority…Right now we are into community spread, so to stop community spread is one of the most important things to do this election cycle.”
He cites the need for a rapid response team in Milpitas to implement strategies for addressing future crises.
He also cites Economic Recovery as a major aspect of his platform, and hopes to collaborate with the City of Milpitas, local banks, and low-interest loan providers so as to aid businesses in surviving through and coping with their current challenges. To that end, he’s already reached out directly to some 650 Milpitas businesses, for which he helped to secure approximately $3 million in loans through Small Business Administration (SBA) programs. “They didn’t have the time to explore options because they had the commitment to run their business,” namely complying with new Santa County Clara regulations, Viswanathan explained, adding that “They felt very thankful, and I also felt good by helping these people.”
Public Safety is also high on his priority list, as well as Affordable Housing. On the latter topic, Viswanathan points to the fact that most homes in Milpitas cost $1 million or more: “You can’t find anything less than $800k even in new construction.” He proposes policy changes whereby the Council works with developers on units that everyone can afford, not just low-income residents. In the meantime, he doesn’t view builders as opponents in such a process: “It’s all about policy management. And it’s all about tax fees, zoning, and regulatory structures.”
An immigrant from India, Viswanathan is active and visible in Milpitas’ Indian community. He is also the director and secretary of USA Cricket, a national governing body in his most beloved of sports. Last November, Viswanathan received a Special Congressional Recognition award from Congressman Khanna for building community and camaraderie through cricket. He was the first-ever Indian-American to receive this honor. In recent days, he negotiated a $1.2 billion deal between USA Cricket and American Cricket Enterprise, on the former’s behalf. The deal will facilitate a nationwide expansion of cricket, involving 6 stadiums and 22 cities.
But a big part of Viswanathan’s passion for cricket involves helping and encouraging children: “My life has totally revolved around helping kids,” he shared, a sentiment to which he added, “Most of the Indian community, their goal is education. So education and athletics go hand in hand, and I’m all about that.”
If elected, Suraj Viswanathan would be the first Indian-American elected official in Milpitas history.
Running for: City Council
Declared candidacy: July 23, 2020