Gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar visited Eastern Michigan University Monday, Nov. 6 for a town hall meeting in the Student Center, hosted by the EMU College Democrats.
Not unlike Abdul El-Sayed’s town hall a couple weeks prior, Thanedar held his in the same room with the same format – a small speech followed by a Q&A. The physical audience consisted of eight people, but the meeting was also broadcast via Facebook’s live-streaming feature. The viewership fluctuated between 28 and 40 people for the duration of the event.
“We need to go beyond making speeches,” Thanedar told the Echo in an interview. "We need to actually work with the other side and make things happen.”
Thanedar was born in India, where he grew up with five siblings in poverty. After his father lost his government job, their family hit hard times, resulting in Thanedar working odd jobs to keep them afloat. He went to college in India, eventually moving to the U.S. to explore new opportunities.
He spoke of his further schooling at the University of Michigan, the death of his first wife and the businesses he started in the U.S. His bank took his first business, a chemistry lab called Chemir in St. Louis, in the 2008 recession. After paying back his loans, he moved to Ann Arbor and started a second business of nearly 50 employees.
“At that point I said ‘enough is enough, I’ve achieved my American dream,’” he said. “But the American dream is fading all over, especially in Michigan, and now I want to go and help others achieve their American dream.”
He eventually sold the second business and dedicated his life to public service. One of his most frequent talking points during both the town hall and his interview with the Echo was his distaste for taking money from big corporations.
“Why would a company – like Blue Cross Blue Shield – why would they give money to a candidate?” He asked. “And how would that candidate [who received the donation] then vote on single-payer healthcare?”
Thanedar criticized fellow gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer for taking corporate money during her campaigns, something he said he’ll never do.
“Throughout her career, corporations have donated money to her campaign,” he said. “I don’t like the idea that our candidates are beholden to corporate money.”
During the Q&A at the town hall, a student asked about Thanedar’s lack of political experience, especially in light of criticism of President Trump, who also had very little experience when he was elected. Thanedar rebutted with an assurance that he would have help from the people he hired should he be elected.
“The way the government works is not rocket science…I will hire good cabinet people and my lieutenant governor would be someone that would have a lot of legislative experience,” he said.
Thanedar expressed his opposition to gerrymandering as well as a possible solution to college debt in the form of forgiving it should the graduate stay in Michigan and start a business.
The live feed featured multiple people who asked questions via the comment section and were commented back with answered from one of the page admins. Most commenters showed positive reactions to Thanedar’s speech and expressed encouragement for him and his campaign.
Contrastingly, Rachel Caloia, the vice president of EMU College Democrats, said she was disappointed with Thanedar’s speech and answers to questions.
“I think he touched on important issues, but don’t think he addressed how he was going to fix them, which is really important because this is a crucial race,” she said. “Whether it was education or healthcare or gerrymandering, I don’t think he gave substantive answers.”
The physical town hall lasted about 35 minutes, stopping short of the 7 p.m. limit that was set for it. The video of the town hall was later posted to Thanedar’s Facebook page to be viewed by anyone, garnering 185 ‘likes’ and 41 shares.
Michigan’s gubernatorial election will take place Nov. 6, 2018.