Washington, DC: Attorney Jay Chaudhuri won the March 15 Democratic primary election for the 16th district state Senate seat in North Carolina to advance to the general election Nov. 8, beating Ellis Hankins with a two-third margin. Chaudhuri received 19,844 votes, or 63.14 percent, while Hankins got 11,584 votes, or 36.86 percent.
Chaudhuri, 46, a lawyer with ties to state government, will face the sole Republican candidate, Eric Weaver, in November, in a district that historically elects Democrats. “I’m honored that the voters have chosen me to be the Democratic nominee for the election in November,” Chaudhuri said. “We’re going to fight hard to continue Josh Stein’s tradition of being a champion for progressive values, and I look forward to bringing everyone together to work toward providing a world-class education for all our students and building an economy that works for all North Carolinians.”
The Senate seat for the district, which encompasses much of western Raleigh and Cary, has been vacant since Sen. Josh Stein decided to run for attorney general. Chaudhuri resigned as general counsel to North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell May 1, 2015, and later announced his candidacy for the state Senate June 2, 2015.
The Indian American candidate said that education is the overriding issue in his campaign. The Republican-dominated General Assembly in North Carolina, he charged, has “not made its focus on investing in public education. Teachers are leaving (North Carolina) for other states,” he had told India-West, adding that he views public education funding as “investing dollars in economic development.”
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a resident of Cameron Village in Raleigh, with his wife, Sejal Mehta, a former New York prosecutor, and their two children, Chaudhuri has an extensive background in state government.
In addition to serving as general counsel and a policy adviser to Cowell, he was also Cooper’s special counsel and legislative counsel when Cooper was state Senate Majority Leader. Before that, Chaudhuri clerked for now Chief Judge Linda McGee of the North Carolina Court of Appeals and was Jacob K. Javits Fellow for former U.S. Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.
Chaudhuri’s parents, Debi and Mithu Chaudhuri, left India 50 years ago and settled in Fayetteville, N.C., where his father worked at the Veteran Administration Hospital.
Chaudhuri graduated from Davidson College in Charlotte, N.C., the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs in New York and the North Carolina Central University School of Law.
Chaudhuri said in a press release last June that, while serving as general counsel to Cowell, he helped recover more than $100 million for state pension and unclaimed property funds and led efforts to establish the first ever Innovation Fund, a $230 million fund to support and invest in businesses with significant operations in North Carolina.
The Democratic primary for Stein’s seat was one of the more expensive legislative races with both candidates raising six figures. The race heated up when Chaudhuri sent campaign mailers publicizing some of Hankins’ donations to Republicans in the 1990s. Hankins, 62, former executive director of the N.C. League of Municipalities, responded with a “voter alert” confirming that he made the donations at the request of a former employee to improve relationships with Republicans. He criticized his opponent, saying they had a gentleman’s agreement to run a clean campaign.