Bhavini Patel believes her story is emblematic of the American dream.
Patel’s mother immigrated to America from India in the late ’80s and started a small catering company that grew into a food truck business. Patel grew up in Monroeville working with her brother in the family’s business. She graduated from Gateway High School before attending the University of Pittsburgh, then earned a master’s in international relations from the University of Oxford.
“I think the core of the story is hard work, grit and determination,” Patel said. “That’s something very special about western Pennsylvania, and I think it gets to the core of who we are as a region.”
Patel recently announced her bid to unseat Rep. Summer Lee in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district’s 2024 Democratic primary.
While politics weren’t always Patel’s focus, service was, she said, noting that she worked in the service window of her mother’s food truck.
“A lot of that is talking to people and having conversations and getting to know people,” she said. “That’s something I really enjoyed. Growing up I wanted to find a career path that would allow me to do that.”
Patel started a small business focused on civic innovation when she moved back to western Pennsylvania from the United Kingdom. She was then appointed to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Advisory Board by state Sen. Jay Costa before being elected to the Edgewood Borough Council and serving as a delegate for Joe Biden at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. She also served as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s outreach manager and executive assistant.
“Public service is about being present in the community and serving the community,” Patel said. “For me, it’s about being in the district, getting a sense of people’s day-to-day lives and what people are experiencing that positions you to best serve and lead an area. That’s critical for me.”
Patel said that serving the region means securing strong federal funding to support projects in the district, including infrastructure, small businesses, transportation systems and workforce development.
“I think we’re uniquely positioned to attract federal funding that allows us to train our current workforce, making sure they don’t have to have four-year degrees to start small businesses and to stay here and find jobs, raise families and buy homes here. That’s what my family was able to accomplish,” she said.
Patel has attended various events supporting the Jewish community in the wake of Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians and the ensuing war.
The congressional hopeful joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s “We Stand with Israel” rally on Oct. 8., and she attended an event sponsored by StandWithUs, a nonprofit pro-Israel education and advocacy group, on Oct. 17 at Temple Emanuel of South Hills. On Oct. 19, she joined a community vigil in solidarity with Israel at Schenley Park.
Patel said she has spent the last few weeks hearing the stories of Jewish Pittsburghers and listening to their experiences. She called the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack “absolutely devastating and tragic.”
“There’s a very visceral human component to this tragic situation in Israel and Gaza,” she said. “There was a terrorist attack in Israel by Hamas. Israel has the right to defend itself when 1,300 people are murdered. It’s pure evil. There will be a response to that. We cannot allow Hamas to exist. There is no debate about their wicked mission. They’ve made it very clear.”
Patel, who has previously run for state and federal office, noted that President Joe Biden has shown strong leadership in his commitment to Israel and in his work to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches civilians in Gaza.
The Hamas attacks accounted for the largest loss of Jewish life in one day since the Holocaust, Patel said, adding that because the attacks came just three weeks before the five-year commemoration of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, many community members are feeling increased anxiety and tension.
Patel has disavowed the BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) movement against Israel, prevalent on college campuses where many Jewish students have felt unsafe and unsupported while grappling with pro-Palestinian messaging.
“I do not support BDS,” she told the Chronicle. “I think we need to do a better job of educating on college campuses and being present on college campuses and engaging our students who are experiencing a lot of mental health challenges as it relates to antisemitism.”
Patel criticized Lee for her post on X (formerly Twitter) immediately following the Hamas incursion, in which Lee condemned the attack on “children and innocent civilians” but also called for a “de-escalation and an end to this tragic cycle of violence. To achieve this, we must bring an end to the occupation and help broker a just and lasting peace.”
Patel said her opponent has made it clear, time and again, that “she consistently operates at the fringes.”
“This is just another example of her operating on the fringes when the community expects her presence in the district,” she said. “As I said, when 1,300 people are murdered, it’s pure evil. Israel has a right to defend itself. This is just another example that shows she is out of touch with the people in the community.”
Patel is gaining the support of pro-Israel constituents disappointed with Lee’s voting record. In August, for example, Lee was one of only nine House members voting against a resolution declaring Israel “is not a racist or apartheid state.” She also joined a group of progressive lawmakers in co-sponsoring the Ceasefire Now resolution, urging an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in “Israel and occupied Palestine.” Other sponsors included Reps. Cori Bush, André Carson, Delia Ramirez and Rashida Tlaib.
Meryl Ainsman, a Democrat who lives in Squirrel Hill described Patel as “very bright” and “committed.”
“She’s willing to put in the hard work and the time,” Ainsman said. “She’s well educated. And I think she is trying very, very hard to connect with and understand her potential constituents.”
Not surprising given her background, Patel said she supports immigration, calling western Pennsylvania an “absolutely special region.”
“The concept of the American Dream is a beautiful thing, and when we think about the region and when I’m talking to people in the community, our diversity, different cultures, different religious beliefs — that vibrancy is what helps us thrive collectively,” she said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.