From Trump to Patel, hoteliers seek elected office

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Donald J. Trump’s candidacy for president has brought the spotlight to hoteliers who have similar endeavors.

By Brandon VerVelde

Donald J. Trump might be the highest profile hotelier in history.

The billionaire business mogul has an empire that includes his iconic skyscrapers, clothing lines and several hotels and resorts. Trump was also the star of the hit reality television show “The Apprentice.”

Now he’s running for president of the United States, and his campaign has brought new attention to his business.

“Having Donald Trump, a hotelier, running for president will raise the profile of the issues that are important to the lodging industry among both parties,” said AAHOA President and CEO Chip Rogers regarding Trump’s candidacy.

As president, Trump would be the ultimate advocate for the issues he cares about. And even if he’s not elected in November, his debut into politics will bring the hotel industry and its many concerns into the spotlight for all candidates to talk about.

Raising the profile of the hotel industry is a huge win and may be the catalyst that prompted some AAHOA members and hoteliers to ask themselves what more they can do, knowing that AAHOA places a high priority on advocacy. Hosting two major advocacy conferences per year in Washington, D.C., and participating in events at state capitols around the country, AAHOA has invested significant resources into building relationships with lawmakers at all levels of government.

The efforts are paying off. State legislatures are passing bills that protect the joint employer standard and invest funds into tourism promotion. Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law a permanent reauthorization of the Small Business Administration’s loan guarantee program in 2015, the culmination of a years-long effort by AAHOA.

But there’s always more to do to protect the interests of hoteliers.

The list of leaders in the hospitality industry running for office continues to grow. Trump is the most obvious, but possibly the most knowledgeable day-to-day hotel owner and operator is former AAHOA chairman and candidate for Florida House of Representatives Hemant (Henry) Patel.

p46_HenryPatelHemant (Henry) Patel
Florida House of Representatives, District 108

During Patel’s tenure as chairman, he led the expansion of the AAHOA government affairs office because he knew hoteliers’ interests weren’t being relayed to the lawmakers in the nation’s capital and around the country.

With almost three decades of experience owning a hotel and extensive involvement in his community, Patel is looking forward to turning his advocacy into real change for his community as an elected official in the Florida House from the 108th District.

No one understands the effect of laws and regulations on the industry better than Patel.

“Every time politicians pass new laws someone, somewhere is impacted,” Patel said. “Unfortunately, too many times small businesses, especially those in the service industry, are damaged in this process. Advocating to lawmakers is certainly helpful, but becoming a lawmaker will make an even bigger difference.”

Patel’s community involvement in Miami started with a prevalence of crime in the area of his property.

“In 1989, I moved here and bought a hotel, but there were challenges in the neighborhood pertaining to crime. That got me involved, and I became the voice of the business owners with the community,” he said.

He and his family still live at and run the King Motel, an independent property they bought 27 years ago after emigrating from India. For more information on the campaign of former AAHOA Chairman Hemant Patel, visit www.HenryPatelForFL.com.

p46_Ami_BeraAmi Bera, MD
U.S. House of Representatives, California’s 7th District

Ami Bera is the congressman for the greater Sacramento area of California. Bera is an AAHOA member as well as a doctor, which led him to his first role in public service as the chief medical officer for Sacramento County. Though not an elected position, Bera was responsible for setting the health care policy for the entire county of nearly 1.5 million residents.

First elected in 2012, Bera is running for his third term this fall on a platform of pro-small business initiatives, including increased access to capital and a fairer, simpler tax code.

“Small businesses employ over half of America’s workers, create nearly two-thirds of all new jobs, and are responsible for over 97 percent of all exported goods,” Bera said. “Our economic policy needs to better reflect the central role of small firms in job creation.”

p46_DinoTepparaDino Teppara
Lexington County Council, District 6 (South Carolina)

Dino Teppara, an AAHOA member, has a long career history of using his advocacy expertise to serve his community. He was the first Indian-American to serve as chief of staff in Congress, working for Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. He then went on to serve in the administration of Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., the first female Indian-American governor in the country.

Now Teppara is running for the county council in Lexington, South Carolina. Having served in senior positions in Congress and for Gov. Haley, Teppera appreciates the importance of advocacy at the local level.

p46_RajaRaja Krishnamoorthi
U.S. House of Representatives, Illinois’s 8th District

Sometimes you’ll try but you won’t succeed, a lesson that transcends politics into business and your personal life. Raja Krishnamoorthi took the lesson to heart. He won the Democratic primary for Illinois’s 8th Congressional District earlier this year after being the runner-up in two prior campaigns for Congress.

Born in India, Raja will be just the third Indian American member of Congress if he wins in November, and he looks forward to being an advocate for small businesses.

“As a small businessperson, I’ll be able to talk to my colleagues in a real granular way about how hard it is to start and grow a small business,” he said in an interview with Roll Call.

p46_BarryPatelBarry Patel
Mayor of South Padre Island, Texas

A tourist destination that’s home to nearly 3,000 – a number that doubles or triples when visitors flock to the beachside community – South Padre Island, Texas, is governed by Mayor Barry Patel, a hotelier and AAHOA member.

Elected in 2013, Patel has made security for the community’s residents and visitors a top priority, which protects their vital tourism economy. He also spearheaded a multi-million-dollar renovation of the city’s convention center, which reopened earlier this year.

p46_PeggyChoudhryPeggy Choudhry
Osceola County Board of Commissioners, District 1 (Florida)

“I am running for County Commission so I can help the people of Osceola County achieve the American Dream!” exclaims Peggy Choudhry’s campaign pamphlet for the Osceola County Board. She’s a perfect example, having first started her career with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an immigration officer, before moving into the hotel business nine years ago.

Her candidacy is about making positive changes for her county on a bigger scale, she says, a comment that could apply to all AAHOA advocates looking to do more for their businesses, industry and community.      ■

Brandon VerVelde is the director of State and Local Government Affairs for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and can be reached at brandon@aahoa.com.

Inspired by these stories?
Here’s how to run for office yourself

If it’s your first time, you might want to start a bit smaller than president. On the local level, your county likely has a county executive, clerk, sheriff, treasurer and a county board with several members. Your city likely has a mayor and a city council with several members. It might even have an elected dog-catcher (a real position in Duxbury, Vermont!).

The state level is a step up. Your state likely has a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. The state legislature has both a Senate and a House, where you’re represented by one person in each.

You have just three options on the federal level: representative, senator or president of the United States.

Research the positions in your state by checking out your state, county and city elections website.

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