Anyone with siblings knows that besting a brother or sister in sports or winning your parents praise is like a nagging intuition that only grows with age. Thiru and Krishanti Vignarajah are living proof that sibling rivalries never die. One is running for Baltimore state’s attorney and the other is vying to unseat Gov. Larry Hogan. As the children of two immigrant Baltimore City Public School teachers, Thiru and Krishanti are the epitome of the American dream.
After their parents fled civil unrest in Sri Lanka, they sought refuge in the Edmondson Heights neighborhood in Baltimore City. Thiru went on to pursue law at Harvard—becoming the editor of the Harvard Law Review “before Barack Obama made it cool.” And his younger sister, Krishanti, studied political science and molecular cellular and developmental biology at Yale, eventually becoming the policy director for Michelle Obama at the White House. Although wildly successful, the pair says that there was never any pressure from their parents to go to college and do well.
“If you ask my father, he would tell you, they didn’t really know of the Ivy League, and they always kind of encouraged us to realize our potential,” Krishanti said. “But it was never sort of pressure. It was never, ‘You will go to a top notch academic institution.’ I think there was an expectation that we would make something of ourselves and find some way to give back.”
Neither Krishanti nor Thiru had ever thought about running for public office. For Thiru, it was the Uprising in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray that piqued his interest in politics. As a former Maryland deputy attorney general, he witnessed firsthand how the increased violence and homicide rates in Baltimore were tearing communities apart.
“It was just gut wrenching and heart breaking,” Thiru said. “I suddenly realized that it was not going to get better unless we had real leadership in the role of the state’s attorney. I just couldn’t sit back and watch anymore.”
For Krishanti, she was asked to run following a keynote address at the Western Maryland Democratic Summit in April 2017 (and was eight months pregnant at the time). A political consultant approached her and said, “You’re not going to like me in five minutes. You’re going to hate me in five months,” and showed Krishanti a crumpled piece of paper with names on it.
“She says, ‘None of these candidates could beat governor Hogan. Fortunately, I’ve just found my candidate. I just need to wait until she delivers her baby,’” she recalls. “It kind of gave me pause. Part of that pause was that, coming out of the Obama administration, and having so many of the accomplishments we worked so hard to achieve either already reversed or threatened to be reversed, made me believe that we needed to be part of the resistance and opposition. Part of it was I was nearly nine months pregnant.”
Now, nearly six weeks away from the primaries, the brother and sister are ready to acknowledge their familial ties within the race. After keeping their relationship out of the race in an effort to “keep the focus on the issues at hand,” Thiru freely prattled on about his admiration for his little sister and all of her accomplishments.
“She’s extraordinary and we have a sibling rivalry like everybody else but there’s no one I would trust more with the biggest responsibilities on the Earth,” he said. “She is as humble as she is brilliant, she is as hardworking as she is charming.”
Neither sibling can ignore the elephant in the room—if they both win their respective seats, will there be a conflict of interest? Baltimore is known for its history of political families—Mitchells, Cardins, Mosbys—but aside from having a longer name, Thiru believes that they are the same as other families that have served.
“If a brother and sister didn’t disagree, nobody would believe it,” he joked. “There will be issues and subjects in which we may disagree, and we’ll talk about it and we’ll move forward. In some respects, that’s what I would say about a person in government that wasn’t family.”
When the fancy titles are stripped away, and politics are out of the picture, Thiru and Krishanti are just Woodlawn High graduates who enjoy being on the water or taking in a game at Camden Yards. At the end of the day, they are just a brother and sister, who are hoping for the best outcomes for each other in the June 26 primary.
“I’m inspired and proud of what Krish is doing,” Thiru said. “There is a moment that is seizing the country and I think both of us feel this calling. It’s rooted in our unique experiences, we have walked our distinctive paths, but if not now, when? If not here, where? If not us, who?”