Susheela Jayapal, the older sister of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, on Tuesday beat out three rivals to win a seat on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in Portland.
On Tuesday, her older sister joined her as an elected leader, easily winning a seat on the nonpartisan Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in Portland, Oregon. Susheela Jayapal captured more than 60 percent of the votes counted as of Wednesday.
Because she received more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, she won the nonpartisan seat without a fall runoff election.
Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District, congratulated her sister Tuesday night on Twitter, writing: “She ran an incredible race and won outright with 57 percent of the vote. Multnomah County, she will be a strong progressive champion for you!”
In an interview Wednesday, Susheela Jayapal said she hadn’t seriously considered running for office before last summer. Her decision to do so was in part a reaction to President Donald Trump.
“Obviously, the national election had an effect on me as it has on so many women and people of color,” she said.
But the bigger impetus was trying to resolve problems in the Portland area that will sound familiar to Seattle residents: housing affordability and homelessness.
“This region is becoming unlivable for too many people,” she said, including many refugees and people of color. “I really just had a sense of urgency about the fact I really don’t want to live that sort of community.”
During the campaign, Susheela Jayapal proposed rental assistance or vouchers to help people at risk of losing their homes, especially elderly people and families with children.
Pramila Jayapal encouraged her sister to run, advised her what to expect, and helped her with fundraising and endorsements.
“I am really proud of her,” Pramila Jayapal said. “She did a lot of work listening to organizations dealing with housing and homelessness and she has very clear values. We have very similar values around treating people with respect and giving people a hand up.”
The sisters have followed somewhat similar paths to political office. Both moved to the U.S. from India to go to college at age 16, and worked in the private sector before shifting interests to activism and nonprofit work, and, finally, electoral politics.
Their voices sound strikingly similar. Susheela Jayapal, who is three years older, said she used to hear her sister on her answering machine and wonder “Why am I calling myself?” Even their parents have a hard time distinguishing which one is calling home, Pramila Jayapal added.
A nonprofit leader and former general counsel for Adidas America, Susheela Jayapal was born in India and moved to the U.S. to attend Swarthmore College, according to her campaign biography. She graduated at age 20 and worked as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs before graduating from law school.
Two decades ago, she left the legal field to dedicate her time to nonprofits, including Planned Parenthood and the Portland Schools Foundation.
Pramila Jayapal got a master’s degree in business administration, worked as a financial analyst for a while but moved on to nonprofit work, eventually founding OneAmerica, the Seattle-based refugee and immigrant-rights organization. She was elected to the state Senate in 2014 and to the U.S. House two years later.
Like her sister, Susheela Jayapal has been a trailblazer. She is the first person who was born in South Asia to be elected to office in Oregon, according to The Economic Times, an English-language newspaper in India.
Politics often runs in families in the Pacific Northwest, as elsewhere. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s father was a powerful Democratic state legislator. The Pierce County Council includes the mother-son combo of Republicans Pam Roach and Dan Roach.
But it’s still rare to see siblings holding office at the same time.
One example in Washington: Rob Snaza was elected sheriff of Lewis County in 2014; his identical twin brother, John Snaza, is sheriff of adjacent Thurston County.