Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has appointed Indian American Ronak D. Desai to her influential commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Established several years ago, the Commission advises the Mayor and the public on the various views and needs of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities residing in the District of Columbia. Desai received his commission last month along with other appointees after being sworn in by Mayor Bowser.
A prominent attorney, Desai is a widely respected member of the Indian American community in which he has been active for several years in several different capacities. He is a recognized legal and foreign policy expert and currently serves as Counsel to the United States Congress. Prior to his tenure on Capitol Hill, Desai worked as an attorney at the powerhouse law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, whose former ranks include current D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sri Srinivasan. Srinivasan was recently shortlisted by President Obama to fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death earlier this year.
Desai has a long track record of public service spanning more than a decade in both the government and private sectors. During his time at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, the Washington D.C. pro bono bar recognized Desai for the thousands of hours of free legal services he provided to indigent clients across the country. As Counsel to the United States Congress, he routine advises Members of Congress on a wide range of legal and foreign policy matters, including those implicating the U.S-India strategic partnership.
Originally from Orange County, California, Desai is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School from which he graduated magna cum laude.
The AAPI Commission’s efforts have recently focused on developing cultural sensitivity and training programs for various D.C. government agencies, including its police department, to help facilitate their responsiveness to the community’s distinct needs. It has also prioritized ensuring that low-income AAPI residents have continued access to fair and affordable housing throughout the city. The Mayor’s Office on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (MOAPIA) is led by Director David Do.
Director Do said that Desai was appointed by the mayor because of his “strong command in policy and over the legal process,” skills that are considered “valuable assets that [will] help the commission better advise the Mayor, the Council, and the work of MOAPIA on the views and needs of the AAPI communities.” Former Chairwoman of the Commission, Ada Loo, nominated Desai to the post recognizing his leadership abilities, legal and policy acumen, and longstanding engagement with the community over the past several years.
The AAPI Commission is currently comprised of fourteen commissioners who “reflect the demographic, geographic, and ethnic diversity of the District’s AAPI community,” according to its website. Along with Desai, there are a total of five commissioners that are of Indian American descent, each of them bringing unique expertise in serving the AAPI community through their work and experience.
They include Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi, Kishan Putta, Sapna Pandya, and Surjeet Ahluwalia. Bagchi currently serves as Director of AAPI and Small Business Engagement at the Democratic National Committee and Putta is a healthcare consultant who previously worked as Dupont Circle’s ANC neighborhood representative. Pandya serves as the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization “Many Languages One Voice” while Ahluwalia, whose father hails from India, leads a group known as “AALEAD” or Asian American Youth Leadership Empowerment and Development.
Do noted that the “District of Columbia has a rich history of inclusiveness and has a diversity that spans generations, a diversity that spans ethnic and racial boundaries—including the AAPI community, on which the Mayor places significant importance.”
Desai hopes to bring his unique perspective from working in both the public and private sectors in conjunction with his legal and policy skills to serve the city’s AAPI communities and help advance the Commission’s work.
His commission will expire in April 2019.