Three Asian Pacific American candidates won local elections in New Jersey on Tuesday despite efforts to target them because of their ethnicity or religion.
In Hoboken, Ravinder Bhalla, a civil rights attorney and a two-term City Council member, was elected the city’s first Sikh mayor. He faced a crowded field but had the endorsement of Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who chose not to seek a third term.
During the campaign, a flyer circulated with a photo of Bhalla, whose religion requires him to wear a turban and have a beard. The copy read, “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town!”
Bhalla tweeted on Nov. 4, “Yesterday, a flyer w/ word ‘terrorist’ above a pic of me was circulated in Hob. Of course this is troubling, but we won’t let hate win.”
According to **The Jersey Journal,** the flyer appeared to be a doctored version of a mailer from Michael DeFusco, a fellow councilman and mayoral candidate, who has denied having anything to do with the incident.
“Thank you Hoboken. I look forward to being your mayor!” Bhalla tweeted after he was declared the winner.
Born and raised in Passaic, N.J., Bhalla earned a bachelor’s degree in political psychology from UC Berkeley, a master’s in public administration and public policy from the London School of Economics, and a juris doctorate from Tulane University Law School. As an attorney, he won a settlement in the case of a Sikh who was refused a job at a car dealership in Little Falls, N.J. because of its policy of prohibiting beards.
Bhalla, a Democrat, was elected to the Hoboken City Council in 2009 and served as council president from 2011 to 2012. He unsuccessfully ran for the New Jersey General Assembly in 2011 and was re-elected to the City Council in 2013.
In Edison Township, ads targeting two school board candidates included the slogan “Make Edison Great Again” and read, “Stop Jerry Shi & Falguni Patel from taking over our School Board. The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town! Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is enough!!” “Deport” was stamped on photos of Shi and Patel. The ads did not identify the group that paid for them.
“A vile, racist campaign flyer has been distributed around Edison Township, “Mayor Thomas Lankey said in a statement. “Our community proudly embraces our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Make no mistake, we will do everything possible to expose the shameful people behind this.”
Shi and Patel said in a joint statement, “Edison is a wonderful community full of amazing people of all backgrounds, this is our strength. So, we will not be distracted by these unfortunate attacks. They are un-American and not the Edison we know. We will continue to focus on our campaign and work for the students and taxpayers of this town that we love.”
Shi, an incumbent, and Patel were the top two finishers in a nine-way race for three openings for three-year terms on the Edison Township Public Schools Board. Incumbent Beth Moroney was also re-elected.
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu tweeted that the election results were a “repudiation of Trumpian politics.”
Advancing Justice-LA tweeted, “See, racism does not win.”
Shi was appointed to the school board in January 2014. His professional experience includes working in the pharmaceutical industry with Merck as a systems associate with Merial Limited. He has served on the Edison Township Public Schools Human Relations Committee and as a volunteer with the J.P. Stevens Band Parent Association. He has also served as a vice principal and board chairman with a Chinese school in the Edison area. He earned his M.S. in computer science and his M.B.A. from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and his B.A. in systems engineering from the Shanghai University of Engineering Science.
Patel’s professional experience includes working as an attorney. She earned her J.D. from Western New England College and her B.A. in political science and psychology from Rutgers University. She has been affiliated with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the South Asian Bar Association of New Jersey. She was one of three Indian American candidates in the school board race.
As of 2015, 47.6 percent of Edison Township’s population was Asian and 40.4 percent was white. The nine-member school board currently has one Indian American and two Chinese American members.