Alice Song / Sun File Photo

Omar Din '19 speaks at the Student Assembly meeting in February 2019. The alumnus is now the first Muslim, South Asian and youngest person at 22 years old to be elected to city council of his hometown in Sunnyvale, California.

November 19, 2020

Alumnus Omar Din ’19 Breaks Boundaries in Local Government

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The son of two Pakistani immigrants and a recent Policy Analysis and Management graduate, Omar Din ’19 has just joined the political stage. 

But on Nov. 6, Din became the first Muslim, South Asian and, at 22 years old, the youngest person to be elected to city council of his hometown in Sunnyvale, California.

Growing up in Sunnyvale, a Silicon Valley suburb, Din got his start volunteering at local nonprofits and community centers. In high school, Din worked on the campaign of former Rep. Mike Honda (D-Ca.) and the office of Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Ca.) where he said he “fell in love with electoral politics.”  

“I really saw the power that brings communities together and got to work on things that matter to them and impact them,” Din said. 

He said that his personal identity contributed to his interest in public policy.

“When you grow up in the post 9/11 America, being Muslim-American and being an immigrant becomes very naturally politicized,” Din said. 

At Cornell, Din studied PAM in the College of Human Ecology — a major he thought would have nothing to do with being in local government. But he said he has directly applied coursework to the job. 

“Early on, I had to speak about if the city should start using vehicle miles traveled as its unit of travel instead of level of service, which is super in the weeds,” Din said. “But I remembered that I had to write an essay on this for my Intro [to] Policy Analysis class.” 

On campus, Din served as Student Assembly representative, and credits much of his success to the relationships that he built at Cornell — making connections with alumni and current students.

One connection that Din found at Cornell was with Zuhair Imaduddin ’23, who became Din’s campaign treasurer after reaching out on Instagram. 

“One of my weaknesses is that I’m just not that detail oriented. I’m not that good at keeping up with all my forms,” Dim said. “So I found myself a treasurer who was super detail oriented — and that was Zuhair.”  

Imaduddin agreed, crediting their personal dynamic for the success of the city council campaign.

“We get along just as people, but also having different roles helped the campaign a lot. On my end, when something was due or there was an issue, I was able to jump on that very quickly,” Imaduddin said. 

Din said he hopes that his own background will inspire others and show that anyone can run for office. For Din, to be elected as a Muslim and someone of South Asian origin is an achievement, because the majority of Sunnyvale’s city council has not reflected the diversity of its city. 

“I feel like being able to break those barriers brought a lot of perspectives that are otherwise just not being reflected in government,” Din said.