Following a run for Santa Clarita City Council that left him in sixth place last year, psychiatrist Aakash Ahuja announced this summer he will run again for the 2022 elections.
Ahuja ran in 2020 to make Santa Clarita a “more prosperous” city in terms of safety, economic prosperity, health and education – and his goals remain the same. After falling short of the majority needed to win an available seat, in which he received 14,500 votes, Ahuja decided to revise his campaign strategies to improve communication with voters and narrate his plans in a better way.
Despite running on Democratic support (he was called a Democrat by the Los Angeles Daily News last October) and social media rumors he’s a Republican voter, Ahuja said he’s a registered Independent and did not receive any endorsements from any political groups last year (despite a June 2020 Instagram post from Our Revolution SCV endorsing him). He pointed out that the city council is supposed to be nonpartisan in order to not represent only certain parts of the community. After running, Ahuja said he learned that the city is “very much divided” and there is some “mistrust” among citizens.
“There are certain people on the extreme left and on the extreme right, but I still believe that the majority of the people want to see the city prosper, have a good job, make decent money, good health for themselves, their parents and their children, and good schools for their children,” Ahuja asserted.
Running once has helped with getting his name out there to voters, he said among other things he’s learned.
“If more people in the city know your name, then they can look into your campaign more into what you stand for and what you do not stand for,” Ahuja said. Additionally, as more people get vaccinated and hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 continue to decline, he said he hopes to be able to communicate to more voters to “tell them about our goals and what we can do and have been doing.”
Finally, Ahuja stated that he will definitely have a campaign team this year to help with fundraising and social media, as well as renewing his 2020 pledge to donate 100% of his Santa Clarita City Council salary back to local charities if elected. Along with a full campaign team to manage fundraising and social media, Ahuja’s pillars remain the same: “economic prosperity, the safety of the city, better health for our citizens and better education for our children.”
Last year’s races, along with the campaigns for higher office, were an example of the extreme divides further alienating Americans from each other. With Santa Clarita’s municipal elections, Ahuja said those running should pay more attention to basic necessities and issues directly affecting SCV residents.
“Nobody talks about faster Internet, nobody talks about better cell phone coverage in our city… we want to focus on that… nobody talks about having a satellite university center in our city… nobody talks about increasing the hospital beds in our city, nobody talks about having a pediatric or children’s board in our city… we talk about that,” Ahuja said.
One of the major priorities of Ahuja’s campaign is “keeping the city safe,” notably working “hand-in-hand with the [Santa Clarita] Sheriff’s Department… We want to keep drugs out of the city so that our future and our kids do not get affected by this [opioid and fentanyl] epidemic.”
Already a licensed psychiatrist focusing on treating mental health and mental health outreach, Ahuja is also chairman-elect of the Rotary Satellite Club, working on local issues such as helping the homeless community. Each month, Ahuja goes to Bridge to Home to conduct a mental health workshop and answer questions about coping skills, how to manage mental health symptoms and general education on mental health. Ahuja runs a psychiatrist program in partnership with College of the Canyons where anyone in the community can join the Zoom group and ask any questions that they might have concerning mental health.
Looking back on the city’s handling of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, Ahuja said it’s imperative to listen to the people and bring them to the table, and insisted, “70-80% of the problems get solved if we just listen to people, even if you don’t agree with them.”
In dealing with situations deeply dividing the community, Ahuja said he’ll “bring people to the table – both sides” and make an objective decision based on the people’s opinions. He clarified that it is difficult to imagine what he would do hypothetically as it is easy to state when you are outside the decision-making process as a citizen.
“Even if there are certain things which go against my personal beliefs, but I believe that at this particular time, this decision is the best decision for the city, I will take that [decision],” Ahuja said.
Finally, Ahuja believes he is the most qualified candidate for city council because he brings a lot of diversity to the table, pointing out his Indian heritage, his level of education earning him an MD and his career as a psychiatrist. Ahuja said that by his very nature he is an objective, “facts-based” person who believes in science, makes decisions based on data, listens to people and takes people’s opinions into account (despite those who said they were blocked by him last year on Facebook; Ahuja claimed this was not a personal decision but done to run a positive campaign, adding, “I have absolutely no hard feelings against anybody”).
“I have no problem or ego to accept that I was wrong about something. If someone convinces me objectively that this is the better way to go, then I will certainly say ‘sure.’ I genuinely believe I might be the only candidate who has talked to both [former Assemblymember] Christy Smith and [Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita)] in a meaningful manner. I think both have some very good strong points and both can improve on certain things. It’s very easy to preach being nonpartisan… but at the end of the day, it takes guts to say that,” Ahuja said.
“You have to respect the good points of everybody. Only then can you bring people together. In the long run, if more people think this way, we will see Santa Clarita reaching even further heights.”
This story continues a series by The Proclaimer to cover all of the current and future candidates running for the Santa Clarita City Council election, including the incumbents running for re-election.
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