Candidate profile: Anuja Rajendra, a successful business owner, believes she can get Lansing in better shape 


As a first-time entrant into the political arena, State Senate candidate Anuja Rajendra thought a good way to educate herself on the ins and outs of Lansing would be to shadow legislators on the Senate floor.

She didn’t like what she saw.

“They were talking on cell phones while their colleagues were up speaking about something that was important to them,” said the candidate for the 18thDistrict State Senate seat. “They weren’t paying attention. They were talking among themselves.

“It just struck me as odd. No other business is allowed to run this way. When you have a meeting, you pay attention. But, for some reason on the Senate floor, there seems to be a different set of rules.”

Rajendra, 45, the daughter of Indian immigrants and an Ann Arbor entrepreneur, says she would operate differently if elected to the State Senate.

“I’m a team player, a problem-solver,” said Rajendra. “Michigan’s potential is too great not to pay attention. When people are speaking, I will listen. That includes my colleagues, and more importantly, it includes the people in the community.”

Rajendra is the founder and CEO of BollyFit – an Ann Arbor-based fitness and dance studio. She has a degree from the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, with an MBA from the Ross School of Business.

She has been married for 17 years and is the mother of two sons (ages 11 and 12) and two daughters (5 and 6). The girls were adopted from an Indian orphanage.

The Democratic candidate is running for the 18th District seat currently held by Democrat Rebekah Warren, who is leaving because of term limits. Former Democratic State Rep. Jeff Irwin is in the race and Washtenaw County Commissioner Michelle Deatrick – a Democrat – also is a candidate. Current State Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) – while not yet officially a candidate – is expected to run. The primary election will be in August and the general will be in November.

The 18th District is composed of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, Milan, Ann Arbor Township, Augusta Township, Pittsfield Township, Salem Township, Superior Township, York Township and Ypsilanti Township.

“The people of Washtenaw County face many challenges, and we can’t ignore it,” Rajendra said. “It is time for a fresh start. There is anguish and anxiety when it comes to politics, from Washington on down.

“It takes someone who knows how to work with people. I own a business in the private sector, I have worked with nonprofits, I am a mother, I have real-life experiences that help me relate to the needs of the community.”

Rajendra currently sits on the Governor’s Council for Physical Fitness, Health and Sports, and has for three consecutive terms. She also participates with State of Play, a regional group that works with youth sports in Southeast Michigan.

She has served as the development director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and has worked with various nonprofits such as S.A.Y. Clinic and Beaumont Hospital. Rajendra also is an ambassador for U-M’s LEAD Scholars Program to support diversity and minorities, and she mentors for Walker’s Legacy to help women entrepreneurs.

Rajendra lists education as a top priority because of the widespread effect it can have on the rest of the district and the state.

“Education affects everything, I take a broad perspective on that,” she said. “It’s a huge priority, not only K-12, but higher. It affects health, mental health, criminal justice and beyond. If education fails us, than all those other aspects are affected.

“We have to take care of our kids.”

Environmental issues also are important to her.

“Michigan, Washtenaw County, are environmental gems,” she said. “We have to take care of them.”

Rajendra says her political inexperience is not a detriment, and that she has learned plenty as she forges her way on the campaign trail.

“I have had many conversations with officials at every level and I have asked them what qualities are needed to be a good legislator,” she said. “I have heard things like energize people in the community, work with people across the aisle, understand human nature, and I can do all those things.

“No legislator can take on problems individually. You have to work as a team, regardless of party, regardless of background. I have what it takes to do that.”

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