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Home in Alabama, Indian Small Business Owner Runs for Mayor

Hanu Karlapalem was born in the state of Andhra Pradesh in Southern India and went to school at the Delhi College of Engineering, but he considers Madison, Alabama, his home. He and his wife Vidya have lived in the city for 16 years, longer than he's lived in any other place. They became United States citizens in 2010. He built a small networking solutions business there and earned a graduate degree at the nearby University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Now, he's positioning himself to run the city with a campaign for mayor. It's the first time he's running for public office.

"Madison is a small city," Karlapalem, 51, told NBC News. "It's one of the most highly educated cities in the nation. We have some of the best schools. But of course, there's always room for improvement."

Madison is a city of approximately 45,000, but it recently attracted international attention after an Indian grandfather visiting his son's family was partially paralyzed after an encounter with the Madison Police Department in February 2015.

Video from a police vehicle shows Madison police knocking now 58-year-old Surehbahai Patel to the ground as he was being detained. Eric Parker, the former officer police say initiated the take down, testified in a federal civil rights case that he felt Patel pulling away from him. On Jan. 14, a federal judge threw out the case after two mistrials due to hung juries. Parker still faces a civil case brought by the Patel family as well as an assault charge.

RELATED: Alabama Gov. Apologizes for Cop's 'Excessive Force' That Injured Indian Grandfather

Karlapalem said that while the incident was unfortunate, it was not representative of the city of Madison or the state of Alabama. Parker was dismissed from the city's police department, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley apologized to the Indian government for the incident.

"We have so much knowledge based here. We can tap into that knowledge base, innovate, and create things that we can proudly call 'Made in Madison.'"

"It was an unfortunate tragic instance," Karlapalem said. "It was very emotional. It was sad. But the Madison Police Department is one of the best in the state of Alabama. One such incident does not define the department or the city of Madison or that state of Alabama."

"My focus is going to be on positive side of the city of Madison and the state of Alabama," he continued. "I want to see that we put the city on the path to become the number one small city in America."

Karlapalem's plan for improvement is focused on infrastructure and sustainable growth as well as taking lessons from other cities. While he touts Madison's fast growth — the city's population grew 46 percent between 2000 and 2010 according to the U.S. Census — he's just as quick to point out that the majority of the growth is focused in the number of homes, not of businesses.

"Because of good schools and good neighborhoods, the city has been growing in terms of population, but we don't have enough businesses," he said. "[Madison] is essentially a bedroom community. We're seeing this fast growth in rooftops, but rooftops alone cannot sustain us."

Though he hasn't run for public office before, Karlapalem, who moved to Madison after his wife was offered a job in the area, boosts his time serving on the University of Alabama in Huntsville's alumni board and the advisory council of Global Ties Alabama, a non-profit organization that partners with the U.S. State Department to foster international exchange, as leadership experience.

As mayor, Karlapalem says he would start numerous boards and councils to boost civic engagement and increase city transparency and communication. He would also create incentives for small businesses and startups, floating ideas such as developing affordable, multi-unit co-working spaces and creating an organization called StartUp Madison modeled after Philadelphia's StartUp PHL to help grow the city's startup scene.

"I want Madison to have a unique identity," Karlapalem said. "I would like to see that Madison becomes the Silicon Valley of the South. We have so much knowledge based here. We can tap into that knowledge base, innovate, and create things that we can proudly call 'Made in Madison.'"

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