Bill Askinazi, the Republican candidate for state senate in District 15, stood out in the crowd at the Hare Krishna Temple in Potomac at a Sunday night celebration. The worshippers — who were predominantly of Southeast Asian descent and dressed in colorful saris and sarongs — chanted, sang and danced their way around lavishly decorated altars. Askinazi — dressed in a business suit after attending three other campaign events that day — deposited his shoes at the front of the temple and entered the crowd to sample Hare Krishna culture and drum up support in his race against first-term senator Rob Garagiola (D-15).
“We’ve been trying to really diversify,” said Askinazi in an interview. “20 percent of District 15 is Asian-American. Our campaign is about inclusion and celebrating culture with each other. Montgomery County is a melting pot, and we need to learn more about each other.”
During the announcements period of the celebration, temple president Anuttama Dasa of Potomac said that the Hare Krishna Temple does not endorse candidates, but does welcome them to come and speak.
“Hare Krishna!” Askinazi proclaimed in greeting, and the crowd responded in kind.
“I’m very happy to celebrate with you,” he continued. “You can feel the energy in the room.”
Askinazi said that as Maryland Assistant Secretary of Business & Economic Development, he founded the state’s Indian Business Council, which opened up a Maryland office in Delhi. He said he would like to establish an Asian Heritage Center, and he drew cheers from the crowd when he spoke of the need for AP courses in Indian history and culture.
POTOMAC RESIDENT Vaikunth Gupta accompanied Askinazi to the temple. Gupta, a Democrat, has become a strong supporter of Askinazi since getting to know him as a neighbor. Gupta suggested the visit to Hare Krishna Temple, which he frequents regularly.
“[Askinazi] knows that a lot of Indians, if not most, are Democrats, and he asked me the best way to meet a lot of Democrats in a non-challenging environment, so I suggested to him perhaps going to an Indian temple,” said Gupta.
Gupta believes that Askinazi’s moderate views will appeal to Indian American voters.
“He’s trying to bridge the inter-party gap, and he comes across as a consensus builder who takes a middle-of-the-road approach on most issues,” said Gupta. “You’ll find that Indians are generally laidback, and the extremes don’t go over too well.”
Asian-American voters are also key to Askinazi's campaign. Campaign director Mei-Wen Wang said that Askinazi's call for more cultural diversity in the classroom has also been popular at campaign stops at Chinese language schools, which each serve upwards of 400 families, and at meetings of the numerous local Asian business groups. She believes that Askinazi's targeting of Asian voters could prove a deciding factor in the election.
"My goal is to get the Chinese community involved to understand the politicians and understand the different parties," she said. "I believe [Askinazi] definitely benefits — I've seen it with my own eyes."
While visiting the Hare Krishna Temple, Askinazi and his wife Lori enjoyed vegetarian Indian food alongside hundreds of worshippers. Members of the temple gave Askinazi a copy of “Bhagavad-Gita As It Is,” which was written by the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement and is based on an ancient Sanskrit text honoring the Hindu god Krishna.
The Hare Krishna Movement is a branch of Hinduism that began in the 20th century. Its practitioners celebrate Krishna by reciting the Hare Krishna mantra, and they abstain from recreational drugs, alcohol and other intoxicants and refrain from eating meat.
<b>Bill Askinazi (R)</b>
EDUCATION: Georgetown Law, JD, International Business Law Review; University of Connecticut, MBA; Penn State University, BA, Political Science, cum laude; Exeter University, Devon, England, comparative government (non-degree)
OCCUPATION: business attorney
LIVES IN: Potomac
EXPERIENCE: Maryland Assistant Secretary of Business & Economic Development, 2002 through 2004; Capital Region Assistant Secretary (2005); Founder and Board member, Maryland-India Business Roundtable; Asia Heritage Center Advisor; President’s Merit Advisory Counsel (2006); Basketball Coach, Montgomery County Rec. Department, (1997-2004); Adopt-a-Road Sponsor; Serpentine-Barrows Environmental Committee
FAMILY: Wife of 24 years, Lori; children Matthew (21-years-old), Jessica (19) and Alex (13) all attended Hoover/Churchill cluster
ENDORSEMENTS: National Federation of Independent Business, Asian American Association, Maryland-India Business Roundtable; Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: As of September, Askinazi said that he has raised $108,000 total and has $73,000 cash on hand.