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Sikh American Elected Mayor Of Historic US City

WASHINGTON – Charlottesville, Virginia, a historic city of more than 43,000 people and once the home of three US presidents – Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe – now has a Sikh American mayor. Satyendra S Huja, initially elected to the Charlottesville City Council in 2007 and reelected in November 2011, was chosen mayor unanimously by the five-member city council on January 3. The term is for two years.

“It says something about a community, when they can elect somebody like me mayor,” Huja told India-West. “It shows that they respect diversity.”

As far as he knows, he added, he is one of only a few Sikh Americans in the city, located about 70 miles northwest of Richmond, Virginia, and 115 miles from Washington, DC Huja said that the Asian American population in Charlottesville is about four per cent.

The president of planning and design firm Community Planning Associates, the new mayor before joining the council was director of strategic planning for Charlottesville from 1998-2004 and director of planning and community development for the city for 25 years prior to that.

He is also adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he teaches urban planning courses in the school of architecture.

Asked about his campaign for re-election, Huja said the issues being debated included “the quality of environment and the city’s water system.” He came down on the side of long-term planning, recommending a 50-year plan to safeguard the city’s water supply.

Huja finished first in the balloting, with three council members elected in a “six or seven” candidate race, he said. Huja’s main issues of concern on the council have included energy conservation, initiating a “dialogue on race,” downtown revitalization and historic preservation.

A member of the American Planning Association and American Institute of Certified Planners, he has served as a consultant to the city of Pleven, Bulgaria, on economic development and tourism. Born in Kohat in an Indian frontier province that is now part of Pakistan, Huja was raised in Uttar Pradesh. He came to the US in 1960 when he was 19 years old to pursue his education.

The Indian American city planner received an undergraduate degree in urban planning from Cornell University. Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, whom he saw, but never met, on the campus at Cornell, was two years ahead of him, he said. Huja then received a master’s degree in urban planning from Michigan State University.

Huja told India-West that when he was 18 and about to come to America, his father told him two things. “First, he told me to follow my religion. Second, he told me to participate in the community, wherever I settled. And the Sikh religion is very service-oriented.”

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