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WASHINGTON,VARGHESE K. GEORGE:The day before he was to travel to his birthplace Kerala to join a medical college more than a decade ago, Peter Jacob told his parents:. “I am doing this for you. My mind is elsewhere.” His father, Jacob Peter asked him to cancel the trip and pursue the goal in his mind.
Mr. Jacob’s mind was in social work since his childhood and, at 31, has made him run for the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District. Mr. Jacob’s grassroots campaign — he does not take donations from big business or corporates — has gained momentum and attracted hundreds of volunteers in what is considered a Republican-dominated district.
Further, an endorsement by Senator Bernie Sanders last week, and the increasing public concern over an oil pipeline championed by the incumbent, Leonard Lance, have both provided a great lift to Mr. Jacob’s prospects.
Speaking about funding, he says, “That is the only roadblock.” He adds, “We are funded by the people. Progressives from across the country contribute to us but fund-raising still is a challenge. It is picking up and our goal is to raise $500000 through the campaign season. We need people to support and contribute.”
Mr. Jacob is one of the 60 candidates — at local, State and Federal levels — which Mr. Sanders’s ‘Our Revolution’ movement chose to endorse last week. Chennai-born Pramila Jayapal, running for the U.S. House from the State of Washington, was also on the list.
Mr. Jacob earned a Master of Social Work degree from Washington University in St. Louis following which he became a community organiser and developed a shelter programme for the homeless through a coalition of churches, businesses, schools, hospitals, and individuals. He later developed another programme to help people battle mental illness.
As a child, his piggybank savings went to Mother Teresa each year, and once he received a handwritten note from her in return. “I will pray for you,” she had written.
Mr. Peter says of the note, “We have kept it safely. That note is our most valuable possession.”
Mr. Jacob’s parents came to the U.S. in 1986 from Vazhoor, near Kottayam. He can pronounce the names of these places just like any other Malayali. The family travels every year to Kerala, and other parts of India.
Mr. Jacob sees his Congressional run as a continuation of his social work and “not something new”. “After seeing the problems that people faced, this was only a natural course,” he says.
He also believes the Republican dominance of the District is a thing of the past and things are turning in his favour. “Our message is attracting lot many people, independents and Republicans included. My opponent represents what is wrong with the politics today and people want him to go. He used to care for the people, was pro-choice and pro-environment. But now he is no longer any of that.
“The more people hear our message, the more they are responding. Politics is not static and this district is going to turn Democrat this time,” he says
Sanders to campaign
Mr. Sanders’s message has found wide appeal in the District, even among Republicans, and his endorsement has given a fillip to the campaign, said Mr. Jacob. The number of Democratic registered voters has increased dramatically this season, he pointed out. Mr. Sanders is also likely to campaign for Mr. Jacob.
As a Congressman, Mr. Jacob hopes to promote India-U.S. cooperation in energy and climate change. “Our generation’s challenge is environmental sustainability and addressing climate change.