Barely had investigation begun into the racist flier distributed on Wednesday in Edison, New Jersey against an Indian American woman, Falguni Patel, and a Chinese American man, Jingwei ‘Jerry’ Shi, standing for the School Board, when fresh controversy erupted two days later, on Friday, over a disturbing flier targeting Ravi Bhalla, an Indian American Councilman from Hoboken, who is vying to be the mayor.
The fliers were placed on car windshields with the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town!” above a picture of Bhalla, wearing a turban, reported NJ.com.
The fliers appear to have been a modified version of a mailer from the Michael DeFusco mayoral campaign that was sent out previously claiming Bhalla had an alleged conflict of interest, which appears on the ad in smaller print.
DeFusco condemned the fliers in a statement, saying his campaign had nothing to do with the modified flier and has contacted local and county police to investigate.
Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante said his department is investigating the distribution as a potential bias crime, including bias intimidation or harassment.
“Looking at the law, it could touch on that,” Ferrante said. “It’s awful conduct whoever was the person behind it, and illegal conduct,” Ferrante said. “I was made aware of it last night at approximately 10 p.m. and our detectives immediately began an investigation.”
The fliers were concentrated in mid-town section of the Mile-Square City, in the area of Hudson Street, near the waterfront, according to Ferrante, who said he did not know how many had been circulated, reported NJ.com.
The city of 54,000 people has six candidates vying to replace Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who did not seek re-election. The city’s elections are non-partisan.
“I called Councilman Bhalla tonight to assure him that although we disagree on many issues, we can stand united against this kind of racism infecting our city,” said DeFusco, a Democrat who would be Hoboken’s first openly gay mayor if he wins.
Bhalla, who would be the city’s first Sikh mayor if elected, responded to the flier on social media Saturday, saying that “we won’t let hate win.”
“I want people to know Hob is a welcoming community where my wife & I are proud to raise our children,” he said in a series of tweets. “No matter your race, ethnicity you are welcome here in our City. As Mayor, I will work hard to keep it that way. At time w/ President seeking to divide us, it is critical we come together as a community and stand up for American values.”
Bhalla had become New Jersey’s first Sikh elected official when he won a seat on the Hoboken City Council in 2009.
In an interview to New York Daily News, Bhalla said “there’s been an undercurrent of racism I’ve seen in this campaign. That sort of whispering campaign has come to the surface now, where people have the audacity to send a flyer like that.”
He added: “My wife was in tears. The hardest part as a father was answering my daughter’s questions, asking ‘Why are people attacking you because you wear a turban?’ That’s a hard question to answer to a little girl, 10 years old.”
On November 6, Hoboken police released video footage showing two “persons of interest” in the Hoboken case.
Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante said his department was investigating the incident as a potential bias crime, including bias intimidation or harassment. It also violates a city ordinance prohibiting the placement of campaign or other types of fliers on vehicles or public property, reported NJ.com.
A press release from the police department said a representative of the DeFusco campaign first reported seeing the men with the fliers at about 8:40 p.m. on Friday.
“Members of his campaign observed an unknown individual disseminating altered Defusco campaign literature,” police said. “The campaign literature now had an added portion that read ‘Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town’ over a picture of Ravi Bhalla, another Hoboken Mayoral candidate. When Defusco campaign members realized the alarming and inappropriate change to their official campaign literature they immediately called police and began to gather up the fliers from the vehicles they were placed on.”