Saikat Chakrabarti is the chief of staff to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the U.S. Representative from New York's 14th congressional district representing portions of The Bronx and Queens in New York City. He was named to the Politico Playbook power list to watch in 2019.
Early life and education
Chakrabarti worked on Wall Street, followed by eight years in Silicon Valley at a number of start-ups and founding a web design tool called Mockingbird and then serving as a founding engineer at payments processing company Stripe.
Bernie Sanders campaign and Brand New Congress
In 2015, Chakrabarti "dropped everything" to join the early stages of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential bid. Of that decision, Chakrabarti told Rolling Stone, "I wasn't entirely sure he had all the right solutions but I knew he was talking about the right problems."
Chakrabarti became the Sanders campaign's Director of Organizing Technology and was part of the effort that created technology for grassroots supporters to collaborate on organizing events. The software helped volunteers find other volunteers who lived nearby and helped coordinate "millions" of volunteers to call into battleground states, multiplying the effort of local volunteers and staff. Chakrabarti's technological edge is credited with being "a major component in the success of Sanders’ presidential run."
In the Sanders campaign Chakrabarti worked closely with Alexandra Rojas and Corbin Trent to stage campaign events around the country. Charkrabarti told Rolling Stone that he often heard voters express strong concerns about Congress: "people would say, ‘How’s he going to get anything done? We just saw what Congress did to Obama for the last eight years, they’re gonna do the same thing to Bernie.'" As a result, in the spring of 2016, Chakrabarti (together with Rojas and Trent) co-founded the Brand New Congress political action committee, to recruit 400 new candidates for Congress. Chakrabarti told Rachel Maddow in 2016, the goal was to have unified fundraising of small donors modeled on the Sanders campaign in hopes of politicians who work for their voters rather than spend their time seeking donations. The group received many applications and supported 12 candidates, of whom only Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a seat in Congress.
In early 2017, after Trump's election, Chakrabarti, Rojas, and Trent became less involved with Brand New Congress, and became co-founders of the Justice Democrats. As an executive director of Justice Democrats, Chakrabarti wrote software to organize in a "distributed fashion". Justice Democrats targeted an entrenched "corporate Democrat" in Joe Crowley. Hearing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's dynamic speaking ability sealed the deal to make her the challenger the group would support. Activist strategies mobilized by Justice Democrats contributed greatly to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's primary win, according to The Intercept.
“From day one, these volunteers started knocking doors and reaching into their own networks to expand this volunteer army, allowing us to go into election day with over a thousand volunteers willing to mobilize voters. We buttressed door-knocking with a heavy digital, phone calling, and texting strategy that targeted progressive voters in five different languages. Through this, we built a multiracial, progressive coalition of voters who had been hearing our message for a year and were excited to turn out to vote on June 26."
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff
Following Ocasio-Cortez's unexpected primary victory, Chakrabarti became her campaign manager. While her victory in the general election in a heavily Democratic district was assumed, Chakrabarti leveraged Ocasio-Cortez's spotlight to campaign for other progressive candidates across the country. After she won the November 2018 general election, she appointed him as her chief of staff.
Green New Deal
Chakrabarti led the Ocasio-Cortez staff and several progressive groups in writing the Green New Deal legislation, submitted to the House of Representatives by Ocasio-Cortez and to the Senate by Ed Markey February 7, 2019. The New Yorker quotes him as saying, "We spent the weekend learning how to put laws together. We looked up how to write resolutions.". The Washington Post quoted him as well: “it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.”
Chakrabarti expressed a vision of what Democrats should try to do while Republicans hold power in the Senate and Presidency:
“Don’t expect them to back down . . . Another thing to really do over the next two years is to basically show the American people what will be possible if the Democrats win the House, the Senate and the presidency in 2020, and that means putting our best foot forward. It means putting the most ambitious, the boldest, the biggest things we can, and then just build a movement around that.”
"She's able to do things very quickly because she has a pulse on where the people are."
Amazon HQ2 withdrawal from Queens
In February 2018, Chakrabarti appeared as a guest on Bloomberg Business News to clarify Ocasio Cortez's role in Amazon, Inc.'s decision to pull its planned HQ2 from Long Island City, Queens, saying she objected to the process by which it had received its original deal, but had no specific animus toward the company. He stated that AOC's goal had been to see the local community more involved in discussions, but once community members joined the discussion, Amazon made the decision to withdraw. Chakrabarti elaborated further that Amazon would be welcome to return to the negotiating table under the condition that the company engage adequately with the local communities to be impacted by the project.
- "Saikat Chakrabarti". POLITICO. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- Nandita Singh (January 8, 2019). "Alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, this Indian-origin man is out to change US politics". ThePrint. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Siby Herald (December 22, 2018). "Saikat Chakrabarti, Chief of Staff to newly elected Congresswoman is among Politico's "Power List" of people". India Herald. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Bhargavi Kulkarni (December 16, 2018). "Saikat Chakrabarti: The techie behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez". India Abroad. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Ananya Dasgupta (January 18, 2019). "Meet Saikat Chakrabarti, the Bengali-American chief of staff of the feisty New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez". TheBengalStory. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- SEAS News Briefs (January 9, 2019). "Chakrabarti named to Politico Playbook Power List". Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Adam Shaw (March 6, 2019). "The 'tech millionaire' behind the socialist: Chief of staff who boosted AOC made riches in Silicon Valley". Fox News. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Stuart, Tessa (November 21, 2018). "Can Justice Democrats Pull Off a Progressive Coup in Congress?". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
The three leaders of Justice Democrats — Chakrabarti, Alexandra Rojas and Corbin Trent — met back in 2015, when the only thing they had in common was the fact that they each dropped everything they were doing and went to work for Sanders not long after he declared his candidacy. "I wasn't entirely sure he had all the right solutions but I knew he was talking about the right problems," Chakrabarti tells Rolling Stone.
- Darren Samuelsohn (February 18, 2016). "Bernie's Army of Coders: Inside the DIY volunteer tech movement helping drive the insurgent campaign". Politico. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
If viral videos, data analytics, Twitter and meet-up pages were the big breakthroughs of past presidential elections, 2016 could very well go down as the year of the app.
- Kozub, Stephen (May 8, 2017). "Meet the tech-savvy activists trying to take over the Democratic Party". The Verge. Retrieved March 13, 2019.
As the director of Organizing Technology for the Sanders campaign, Chakrabarti worked alongside Justice Democrats co-founder Zach Exley and communications director Corbin Trent to create software to organize grassroots support.
- Sidney Johnson (February 28, 2017). "Meet Saikat Chakrabarti, The Fort Worth Native Who's Helping To Launch The Justice Democrats, A New Bernie Sanders-Inspired Wing Of The Political Left". Central Track. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
- Rachel Maddow interview (May 18, 2016). "New progressive political group modeled after Sanders campaign". MSNBC. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
- John Eggerton (January 23, 2017). "Ex-Sanders Officials Launch Justice Democrats". Multichannel News. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
- Daniel Malloy (May 23, 2018). "This Berniecrat Aims to Unseat a Queens Power Broker". Ozy. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
- Zaid Jilani, Ryan Grim (July 1, 2018). "Data Suggest That Gentrifying Neighborhoods Powered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Victory". The Intercept. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- Benjamin Wallace-Wells (January 17, 2019). "How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Allies Supplanted the Obama Generation". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
- David Montgomery (10 July 2019). "AOC's Chief of Change". Washington Post. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
“The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” he said, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.” Ricketts greeted this startling notion with an attentive poker face. “Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” Chakrabarti continued. “Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.”
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff speaks out, video of interview with Brian Stelter on CNN's Reliable Sources
- Hamilton, Isobel Asher (March 6, 2019). "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not against wooing Amazon back to New York, but she says the firm must listen to locals". Business Insider. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
The deal was sprung on the community without any input and there's a real cost whenever tech companies come in without community input. Rents go up, people get evicted, there's an actual human cost," he said...Chakrabarti emphasised that it was Amazon who chose to leave the negotiating table once community voices were brought in. When asked whether he'd welcome Amazon back to the negotiating table, Chakrabarti said: "We'd welcome having a process, yes... but I don't know where the talks are at this stage.
- Interview with Emily Chang on Bloomberg Technology (March 4, 2019). "Ocasio-Cortez Not Ruling Out Amazon Coming Back to NY, Aide Says". Bloomberg News. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
- Isabel Vincent (March 2, 2019). "Ocasio-Cortez's chief of staff might have broken campaign finance laws". New York Post. Retrieved March 11, 2019.