Focus on racist flyer in crucial race to pick party candidate

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Sam Joshi at an event organized by South Asian Democratic Club

Sam Joshi faces Mahesh Bhagia, who is under the scanner for the scandal; Mohin Patel, running for Senate, sparks row with call for “mandatory psych tests for teachers”

Our Bureau
Edison, NJ

Voters in at least six New jersey municipalities are hosting closely watched races to pick their party’s candidates for local office on Tuesday (June 8). Edison’s mayoral race has been defined by a racist mailer from 2017. There, Councilman Sam Joshi faces Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia in his bid to replace incumbent Thomas Lankey, who is not seeking another term.

Middlesex County Democrats awarded Joshi the line after growing increasingly uncomfortable with Bhagia’s alleged involvement in the drafting of a 2017 mailer that promised to “Make Edison Great Again” and warned the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”

The mailer has spurred a state criminal investigation. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday declined to say whether another race-baiting mailer, sent by Bhagia supporter and former Republican Woodcliff Lake Councilman Corrado Belgiovine, had been rolled into the probe.

The newer mail piece touted a prominent Pakistani community leader’s endorsement of Joshi.

The winner of the mayoral primary will go on to face Republican Keith Hahn. His Council running mates, Tali Epstein, Joseph Luistro and Payal Mehta are unopposed for the GOP Council nod.

In a huge development, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen) condemned a race-baiting mailer sent to Edison’s Gujarati residents Wednesday, adding that the mail piece should “absolutely” be subject to a criminal investigation. “That mailer is used for the purposes of seeking to create fear and division, and it is the lowest form of political campaigning,” he said, adding he considered the letter racist. “It should be condemned. It’s outrageous, and there’s no place for that in our state, whether it be in Edison or any place else,” he was quoted as saying by New Jersey Globe.

Citing department policy that bars comment on active investigations, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday declined to say whether the new mailer had been rolled into an existing probe into a racist mailer Edison voters received in 2017.

Grewal has empaneled a grand jury to weigh charges over that mailer, which a U.S. Postal Service inspector alleged Bhagia, Councilman Ajay Patil, Wilentz law firm partner Satish Poondi, Jerry Shi — one of the School Board candidates targeted by the mailer — and four others were responsible for sending the mail piece.

Shi is now president of the Edison School Board. Patil was recorded saying Bhagia and Poondi masterminded the 2017 mailer.

In a related development, a controversial Edison school board member running for the State Senate in week’s Democratic primary is calling for public school teachers to undergo periodic psychological testing and alleged that some educators are racist. Mohin Patel is challenging incumbent Patrick Diegnan as part of a ticket essentially led by Edison mayoral candidate Mahesh Bhagia, the Demcoratic municipal chairman.

“All the teachers should have yearly assessments along with competency tests conducted on the subject matter that they teach.  Just like every other licensed profession that needs to be renewed and course credits taken, so should teachers,” Patel wrote in a WhatsApp group.  “They should also be psychologically evaluated as well,” he was quoted as saying in a report in the New Jersey Globe.

Patel also claimed that some students have told him that “some of the teachers are racist and openly say racist things.”

According to Patel, the Board of Education vice president, “the biggest problem is the teachers union.”

“You have some teacher’s (sic) that should’ve been fired a long time ago still getting ridiculous salaries and benefits that are undeserved,” Patel said, according to New Jersey Globe.

Jeff Bowden, the president of the Edison Township Education Association, called Patel out on his statements, said the report. “I find the comments outlandish.  Teachers are evaluated annually,” Bowden said.  “We’re fortunate to work for a great education system, regardless of what one person may think.”

Patel apologized earlier this year for a history of anti-Muslim and anti-media posts on his Facebook page. He is one of the Edison Eight – a group of eight individuals identified by the U.S. Postal Inspector as responsible for a racist 2017 mailer urged residents to “Make Edison Great Again” and warned “the Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has empaneled a grand jury that is probing the racist mailers.

Patel is acting as treasurer of Mahesh Bhagia’s mayoral campaign.

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