Icy weather last weekend bumped state Sen. Jay Chaudhuri’s swearing-in ceremony from Sunday at Morrisville’s Hindu Society to Tuesday at Morrisville’s Town Hall.
But both venues reflected the significance of the ceremony for the Democrat representing Morrisville and parts of Cary, which are home to large Asian-American communities.
Chaudhuri became the first Indian-American elected to the North Carolina legislature when he defeated Eric Weaver for the District 16 Senate seat in November. He already had served in the position for several months last year when he was appointed in April to replace former state Sen. Josh Stein, who ran for state Attorney General.
About 100 people, many of them members of Indian-American communities in Morrisville and Cary, crowded into Town Hall Tuesday night to watch Chaudhuri take a ceremonial oath at the beginning of Morrisville’s Town Council meeting. The ceremony occurred the evening before the General Assembly returned to Jones Street.
Morrisville’s council includes two Indian-Americans who also have made history in Morrisville. In 2011, Steve Rao became the first Indian-American elected to office in Wake County, and in 2015, Satish Garimella became the first Indian-born elected official in North Carolina.
Chaudhuri took the oath with his hand on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text.
Rao emphasized his belief that Chaudhuri won on the strength of his qualifications, but he said he also hoped Chaudhuri’s presence in the General Assembly would usher in a wave of political involvement among Indian and Asian-American residents.
Chaudhuri served in the office of the state treasurer as counsel to Gov. Roy Cooper during Cooper’s time as Senate Majority Leader and Attorney General.
“He’s setting a great example of the youth of our community,” Rao said of Chaudhuri. “I’ve been hearing a lot of interest from young high school kids since his election who want to get involved in politics or maybe run for office.”
Morrisville, in particular, has attracted a large number of South Asian and Indian residents.
Chaudhuri’s district also includes parts of Raleigh. He said the interests of the Indian-American parts of his constituency are a little different than other residents in District 16.
“There are relationships I have with the community that any elected official that comes out of their community would have,” said Chaudhuri, who was born in Fayetteville and now lives in Raleigh’s Cameron Village. “My sense from the six months I’ve been here is there’s a focus on education, a focus on making sure there are better roads in Morrisville.”
In remarks after the ceremony, Chaudhuri praised Morrisville as a place where town officials have been able to work together despite their political differences.
“It will be important for me to continue to seek the repeal of House Bill 2,” said Chaudhuri, referring to the controversial law that, among other things, requires transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.
“I believe that bill is not only discriminatory but continues to do damage to our regional economy in Cary and Morrisville, which I represent,” he said.
Chaudhuri said in an interview that he would prioritize strengthening environmental protections for Jordan Lake and working with Wake County to preserve outdoor recreation space near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
After the swearing-in, council members discussed designs for new signs outside Town Hall. They learned that the preferred design violates the town’s development ordinances, which prohibit institutions from erecting more than one ground sign per lot.
The new sign is part of the town’s rebranding process, which produced a new town logo and tagline.
One design would place two signs on either face of a low brick wall wrapping around the corner of Morrisville Carpenter Road and Town Hall Drive. The second design proposes a single sign along just one of those roads.
The council chose to pursue the brick wall design and asked staff to bring back a cost estimate and draft an amendment that would allow it to be built.