Politics & Government

After revealing her father raped her, Manhattan official says she’s weighing Senate bid

Usha Reddi
Usha Reddi

A Manhattan city official said she is weighing a run for U.S. Senate after disclosing during a radio interview that she was raped by her father as a child.

Usha Reddi, the city’s mayor pro tem, said in an interview with The Eagle on Tuesday that she plans to meet soon with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Reddi, an Indian American who came to the United States when she was 8, would be the first female senator of color from Kansas if elected.

On Monday, Reddi, 53, revealed on Manhattan radio station KMAN that she was assaulted and raped by her father.

“My personal life has always been very separate from my public life and very intentionally so, but unfortunately my personal life and my public life are going to be intersecting here sooner,” Reddi said on air. “The reason being the public knows me in a variety of ways, but the other part to my narrative is I’m also a victim of sexual assault, and the perpetrator in this instance happens to be my father.”

Her father, Venkata Yeleti, pleaded guilty in a Virginia court on Friday to raping Reddi. He will serve one year in prison as part of a plea agreement, Virginia television station WDVM reported.

Reddi has not previously discussed the case publicly. Yeleti’s case has been covered by the news media in Virginia as a rare example of prosecutors pursuing a decades-old rape, but Reddi’s name had not been previously disclosed.

Reddi said on the radio that she had recordings of her father talking about the abuse from years ago and had been ready to pursue charges in Ohio, where much of the abuse took place. But because Ohio had a statute of limitations that had passed, Reddi went to police in Virginia, where she also lived as a child.

At the end of the radio interview, Reddi confirmed she is weighing a Senate campaign. During a phone interview Tuesday, she elaborated on her consideration of a bid.

“I think this is a good time to elevate Kansas in the discussion at the Senate level,” Reddi said. “Working with lots of partners as far as military, university, social services — I think I bring a different message to the table.”

Reddi, who has lived in Manhattan for more than 25 years, is an elementary school teacher and was first elected to the city commission in 2013. Commissioners serve as mayor on a rotating basis, and she was previously mayor in 2016 and 2017. She is set to again serve as mayor in 2020.

From her time in Manhattan, Reddi said she’s realized that while the economy is doing well, she’s not sure Kansans have felt that.

“We are constantly trying to attract jobs, manufacturers, students, to stay in Manhattan as well as in the larger community of Kansas,” Reddi said.

She named mental health as a “huge issue” and said that as a teacher, she also sees the educational profession sometimes facing big challenges.

Like any Democrat, Reddi would almost certainly face an uphill climb in the general election if she runs. No Democrat has won a Senate seat in Kansas since the 1930s.

Reddi said she understands the challenges of running a large campaign, but added that it’s a good time for Democrats to continue building on their progress.

If she enters the race, she’ll face Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney, Nancy Boyda, a former U.S. representative, and Robert Tillman, a retired court services officer. State Sen. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills, is also weighing a bid.

On the Republican side, Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner, former state secretary of state Kris Kobach and former Kansas City Chiefs player Dave Lindstrom are running.

Rep. Roger Marshall, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, Kansas Chamber of Commerce president Alan Cobb and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman are considering running, among others.

The wide-open race was triggered by Sen. Pat Roberts’ announcement in January that he would no seek re-election.

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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.