MORRISVILLE — Four Indian-Americans are running for seats on the Town Council this fall, a sign that Morrisville’s large Asian-American population may want to play a bigger role in local government.
The number of Indian-American candidates in this town is unprecedented; if all are elected in November, more than half of the council would be non-white, a first for the town and likely the region.
But the four Indian-American candidates – incumbent Steve Rao and newcomers Rao Bondalapati, Vinod “Vinnie” Goel and Narendra Singh – said they didn’t plan to run for office in the same year.
It was a coincidence, they said, and some credited the local population boom of the Asian-American community.
In 2000, Morrisville had 230 Indian-Americans. The number spiked to 3,717 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That year, Indian-Americans made up 20 percent of the town’s population.
While Raleigh and Cary have more Indian-American residents, Morrisville has the highest concentration of any town or city in Wake County. In 2010, 1.2 percent of Raleigh’s population was Indian-American; the figure was 6.5 percent in Cary.
Morrisville’s proximity to Research Triangle Park has drawn many Asian-Americans who work in the technology field.
Despite the population growth, Asian-Americans haven’t had major representation in local government. In 2011, Rao became the first Indian-American elected to the Morrisville Town Council.
Rao, a 43-year-old business development director, will face off against former councilman Pete Martin to keep his at-large seat.
“I hope that my run and victory inspired others to run,” Rao said. “But I can’t take credit for others stepping forward, because they are accomplished in their own right.”
Goel, 57, has been involved in behind-the-scenes government for about 25 years. He has been appointed by North Carolina governors to serve on the State Bar Council, the N.C. Board of Architecture and the N.C. Film Council. He has also served as chairman of Morrisville’s Planning and Zoning Board.
He’s vying for the District 2 seat on the council, along with newcomer T.J. Cawley.
“I’m not running because I am Indian,” Goel said. “I came into the picture because friends and colleagues wanted me to run.”
Bondalapati, 40, is running for the District 4 seat against incumbent Margaret Broadwell and Savannah Homeowners Association president Vicki Scroggins-Johnson.
Bondalapati said he wants to serve on the council because he’s passionate about public service. He was inspired by watching politicians campaign in India – they would go door-to-door to rally support and then essentially disappear after they got elected, he said.
“The problem didn’t disappear. There were no solutions,” said Bondalapati, a software engineer and a volunteer coach with the Triangle Cricket League. “I realized the real problem was the leadership. Good leadership can change things.”
Singh, who currently serves as the vice chairman of Morrisville’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, wants to be mayor. He is running against incumbent Mayor Jackie Holcombe and challenger Mark Stohlman, an at-large councilman.
Singh could not be reached for comment.
‘Land of opportunity’
Rao said he’s never considered himself an “Indian candidate.”
“I ran based on my knowledge, my experience, my acumen in business, in economic development and what I could bring,” Rao said. “And that ... was no different from my parents being from Europe or Germany. I grew up in America my whole life, and I don’t believe that because I was Indian it mattered one way or the other.”
Rao said it’s encouraging to see that as the community grows, new residents from all over the world want to participate in the political process.
“I think it’s great that it’s happening in Morrisville,” Rao said. “It sends a signal to young children growing up in this tremendous diverse community that the best way you can have a voice is to serve in office.”
Goel, meanwhile, said he wants to bring his background as an engineer and small business owner to the council. As for the rise in Indian-American candidates, he said it’s clear that immigrant families are settling in for the long haul.
“They’ve been so busy in professional careers they didn’t look in this direction,” Goel said. “When people start, they are focused on their career to earn their living and make a family happy. When those two things are accomplished, then go outside home or work and think about how to give back to the community.”
Bondalapati said it likely all goes back to a desire to serve.
“I would term it as an evolution, like anything else,” he said. “This is the land of opportunity.”