The Hoboken Police Department is investigating an incident that occurred at Indian-American Mayor Ravinder Bhalla’s office Feb. 15 night. Following the incident, Bhalla, who sports a traditional turban and beard, revealed that he and his family had received death threats.
Bhalla is the first Indian-American and first Sikh to become Mayor of the city across the Hudson from New York. Security was being beefed up at City Hall as a result, he indicated.
This incident, along with death threats to me and my family, is an unfortunate reminder that we need to take security seriously,” Mayor Bhalla said in a statement.
Bhalla, who took over this January said, “The Joint Terrorism Task Force has evaluated City Hall, and we have been working to implement their recommendations for physical and procedural changes to improve security for all employees in the building.”
According to a Feb. 16 press release from Bhalla’s office, a man entered City Hall through the Newark Street entrance just before 8:00pm on Thursday, Feb. 15. He went through metal detectors and told security officers that he was going to use the restroom.
According to the account posted on the city website, at the time the alleged intruder entered the building, the only person in the Mayor’s Office was Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Freeman. Mayor Bhalla was on his way to the office following a community meeting. From his office, Freeman observed that a bag with an object had been thrown in the direction of the administrative assistant’s desk and made eye contact with the man who then ran out of the Mayor’s Office. Freeman called the police, and they are currently investigating the incident.
“We take incidents like these incredibly seriously and will continue working to ensure the security of the mayor and everyone who visits City Hall,” Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante is quoted saying in the press release. Bhalla could not be reached by press time.
During his election campaign, Bhalla was the subject of racial profiling and publicly countered them through social media. Prior to voting day, flyers were circulated labeling Bhalla a “terrorist.”
“Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town,” the flyers said, and named Bhalla’s opponent as the source, a charge denied vehemently by Councilman Mike deFusco, who called them “fake news” and described them as “racist, disgusting.” Police began investigating the source of those flyers, but no suspect appears to have been identified.
Bhalla posted the racist flyer on Twitter saying “I want people to know Hoboken, is a welcoming community where my wife and I are proud to raise our children,” adding, “No matter your race [or] ethnicity, you are welcome here in our city. As mayor I will work hard to keep it that way.”