It’s a stressful time to be a candidate for city office, as Frisco Place 6 candidate Sadaf Haq can attest. Up until cities and counties across the country began ordering residents to stay home to isolate in the midst of a pandemic, she was knocking on doors and attending meet-and-greets to campaign to get her message out.

Now she, and all residents, are staying home in response to the spread of COVID-19 as city council and school board elections have been rolled into the November 3 presidential election. 

Haq wishes it could be sooner. 

“A race in November is going to cost probably ten times as much as a race in May,” she says.

Depending on when isolation orders can be lifted, she would rather see the municipal and school elections moved to July 14 if possible, when the May 26 primary runoffs are now scheduled, to help cities who need to get voter approval for bonds and initiatives.

Everything is evolving in these unprecedented days when restaurants and businesses are being forced to close temporarily in response to the spreading COVID-19 virus.

“I haven’t been out in public because I’ve been taking heed to CDC guidelines,” she says. 

For Sadaf, a 41-year-old health care administrator and mother of three, this is personal. Her husband, Adeel, is an emergency doctor and she is not only concerned about the safety of residents but the entire healthcare community. 

“Although there will be economic impacts, we cannot put livelihoods before lives,” she wrote in a post on Twitter. 

She says she respects the challenging position that local and state officials are in — where business owners are vocal and upset about the pain of revenue loss. 

“Of course you must continue to support small businesses the best you can,” she wrote. “There are lots of great ideas circulating online about how to best do that in our community. While we can easily correct for revenue loss, we can’t easily correct soaring mortality rates.”

Haq, a familiar face around City Hall but a political newcomer in the race, is running on a platform of “inclusion, service, and a new voice.”

Also running for Place 6 are Sai Krishna, an immigrant and health insurance case manager, and three-year incumbent Brian Livingston, a bank senior vice president and restaurant owner.

In February, before the shelter-in-place orders took effect, a diverse gathering of neighbors mingled in a home in a Frisco cul-de-sac to meet Haq. 

They tasted appetizing samosas, fried triangular pastry with a spicy filling of potatoes, onions, and peas. Shoes lined the entryway. Some men in business suits, others in casual clothes, and a few women in colorful flowing silk sarees greeted each other in stocking feet.

But the real savory conversation on that recent Sunday afternoon revolved around Frisco’s changing demographics and a city council candidate they hope can lead them into the future. 

“People come from all over the world to live in our community,” said Indira Bommareddy, 47, who moved 10 years ago to Frisco where her two children go to school. “We’re looking for leadership as we continue to grow.”

A man in a white kurta shirt called attention to the front of the room. Everyone shuffled to find a seat in a folding chair.

“I could say I want to meet the first Muslim city council candidate for Frisco but she is so much more than that,” he said. “More importantly, she’s an innovator, a concerned citizen, a great leader.”

He introduced Haq, whose pink campaign signs have popped up around town like spring flowers.

But it’s not the hijab she wears as a Muslim woman of faith that should draw attention, Haq says.

“Let’s talk about issues and working together, not our differences,” she told the standing-room-only crowd in the Frisco home off Coit Road. 

She credits her work with the Frisco Interfaith Alliance for setting her apart from other candidates but also providing her with a unique and valuable perspective. ”Frisco’s houses of worship are coming together and embracing that which is positive in all of us,” she continued.

Haq, who helped form the city’s first diversity and inclusion committee, says she wants voters to notice her experience and passion for shaping the growing city of about 200,000 residents where 20 percent were born outside the United States and more than 70 languages are spoken.

Since 1990, Frisco’s population has grown by more than 450 percent. This growth also attracted a large number of Muslims families to Frisco. The Islamic Center of Frisco, a Masjid that is the center of community activities and education, was established in May 2007 to fulfill community needs of Muslims living in Frisco and Collin County. Muslim students at Liberty High School in Frisco have used a vacant classroom for prayer services initiated and led by the students. 

A growing Indian population—spurred by Frisco’s schools as well as industrial and commercial development in Collin County—also played a part in the 2015 establishment of the $10 million-plus 34,000-square-foot Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple in Frisco, which draws as many as 1,200 worshippers on a given day.

About 14 percent of Collin County’s population is Indian, according to county data. The Association of Religion Data Archives showed the Hindu population in Collin County approaching 15,000 just 10 years ago, and growing.

“That diversity of thought is not always around the table when decisions are being made at City Hall,” Haq says. “I think it is crucial that for Frisco to innovate and continue to succeed, we have to get some different thinking in the room.”

Traffic congestion and the need for affordable housing, issues that often plague larger urban centers, must also be addressed in growing suburbs like Frisco, one of the fastest growing communities in the nation, Haq says.

She leads the 2020 Frisco Census Committee, a city project that oversees efforts to ensure Frisco’s full participation in the upcoming U.S. Census. 

Frisco, which straddles Collin and Denton counties, is growing, no doubt about it. Haq points out that she has seen more traffic moving north through Frisco as it prepares to welcome a new PGA facility and a University of North Texas campus that will bring in residents and visitors from across the globe.

“Everyone wants to get behind the wheel of a car at any time, and get everywhere as quickly as they could 10 years ago when there were 70,000 fewer people here,” she says.

She calls for education and awareness to continue bringing some of the most cutting-edge technology to alleviate congestion and reduce traffic for the growth that is here and on the way. 

Livingston, who agrees that Frisco is more diverse than when he moved here 10 years ago, counts lower taxes, lower housing density and law enforcement as his top issues. 

“What is amazing to me is that the level of volunteerism and passion is the same among all demographics,” he says. “My kids will grow up in a much different world than I did and are fortunate to meet and know people of varying backgrounds.” 

He voted against multi-family units due to proximity to existing houses and voted twice for new homestead exemptions. He continues to push for more resources for first responders in the city that has been named one of the fastest growing communities in the nation.

Krishna’s website lists parks, security, education, and more entrepreneurship for women as some of his platform issues. He could not be reached for comment.

Haq says she has always been interested in civil engagement.

After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and a Master of Public Health degree from the University at Albany, the New York native began working in behavioral and public health with the State Department of Health and other research centers.

She moved several years ago to Frisco where she co-founded a medical practice with her husband.

It didn’t take her long to get involved in community service programs in her new Texas home.

Her work has not gone unnoticed as community activists encouraged her to run for council.

“Frisco cannot change until we change our storytellers,” one resident said.

Haq brings a new kind of energy to Frisco leadership, says Yasin Ali, a former Democratic Party chair who attended Haq’s campaign event. 

“She offers a fresh approach for Frisco as we grow,” he said.

Haq’s work with the Social Services and Housing Board and the Collin County Impact Council that deals with mental health has made her aware of the growing needs of residents who are facing homelessness as they look for work or a place they can afford to stay. 

Haq is a 2019 graduate of Leadership Frisco, a 2019 graduate of Frisco Citizens Police Academy, a member of the Frisco Women’s League, and a member of the Frisco Education Foundation Advisory Board. She has contributed to children’s physical education plans, strategies to increase parks and trails, and efforts to improve adolescent mental health. 

The city is gearing up for more and more entrepreneurship opportunities, she says, especially in pursuance of a venture capitalist possible headquarter. 

“Frisco’s residents are diverse in so many more ways than just ethnicity,” Haq says. “We come from dozens of faiths, from every kind of education background and profession, from every socioeconomic level, from every kind of upbringing and personal challenge.”

In addition to Place 6, voters in Frisco will go to the polls to elect a mayor and a council member for Place 5.

Originally published in the 2020 May/June issue of Local Profile.

Annette Nevins

Annette Bernhard Nevins is a Plano-based, award-winning journalist who specializes in breaking news and features. She has held staff positions at several Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning...