Several Indian-Americans, South Asians won the June 8 party primaries in New Jersey

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Sam Joshi, candidate for Mayor of Edison, N.J., on June 8, 2021, won the Democratic primary, to go on to the Nov. 2, 2021 general election. He is seen here with his supporters. Photo: Facebook @teamsamjoshi.

The June 8, 2021 party primaries in New Jersey catapulted several candidates of Indian ancestry as well as those who immigrated from other South Asian countries to the fore, holding the possibility that come the November 2 general election, the state legislature could have a more diverse profile.

To date there is only one Indian-American State Senator in Vin Gopal, who was unopposed in the primary; and one Indian-American in the Assembly – Raj Mukherji.

Both are set to go in November and will most probably win back their seats. Nevertheless, Gopal told Desi Talk he would take no chances and campaign for every vote. He won his first term in a tough race against a Republican incumbent who had been in the Senate from Montgomery County for 11-years.

However, the most talked-about candidate to win in the Democratic primary is Samip Joshi running for the Mayor of Edison Township.

Joshi had many high-profile endorsements party high-ups favored him with,  from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, and Gov. Phil Murphy downwards, and was engaged in a battle with fellow Democrat Mahesh Bhagia. Joshi won 5,995 votes to Bhagia’s 3,185, according to centraljersey.com reporting based on Middlesex County Board of Elections.

“The people of Edison have spoken, and now it’s time for our Democratic Party and our community to come together and move forward into a new era of progress, and I could not be more excited to hopefully have the opportunity to lead Edison into that new day,” Joshi said on Facebook (@teamsamjoshi).

“I want to thank my campaign team, the many Democratic leaders who embraced my candidacy and especially the people of Edison who saw clearly that we need a new direction for our community,” Joshi went on to say, concluding with, “I look forward to the General Election and hopefully to beginning a new administration in January that will deliver the bold, transformative leadership that Edison deserves.”

Joshi is expected to face Republican candidate Keith Hahn, retired township police officer, and incumbent Mayor Tom Lankey, in the November elections.

Hahn was a former chair of the local Democratic Party and switched sides, retired from the police force and decided to run for Mayor.

Sitting Mayor Tom Lankey is also in the running, a former Republican Lankey ran as an Independent and will do so now in November as well.

Anjali Mehrotra, candidate for the N.J. State Assembly from District 21. Photo: Mehrotra for New Jersey Assembly

Numerous Candidates

Indian-Americans and other South Asians ran in the primaries in noticeable numbers on both sides of the aisle.

New Jersey State Sen. Vin Gopal. Photo:Twitter

For instance, businessman Hirsh Singh, a Republican lost in a four-way primary for the Governor’s seat, but did not do too badly, securing 21.49 percent of the vote.

In the State Senate, Gopal was the only Asian American candidate and he goes against Republican Lori Annetta on November 2. Gopal turned the Red County (Montgomery) into blue when he got elected in an upset victory four years ago.

“New Jersey is becoming more and more blue – over the last ten years,” he told Desi Talk. There are one million more Democrats registered today than before, he said, which gives this party the advantage. “I beat a very, very, very difficult incumbent in the last election, and I am going to take nothing for granted.” Gopal draws support from members of both parties, he noted.

Sadaf Jaffer, candidate for the Democratic Primary running for NJ State Assembly from District 16. Photo sadafjaffer.com

Sadaf Jaffer, two-term mayor of Montgomery Township, won the district 16 primary for the Democratic Party nomination and goes on November. At last count when the mail-in votes had yet to be added, Jaffer told Desi Talk she had won 44.19 percent of the vote and her running mate had secured 42.07 percent.

“This District is a purple district till a few years ago when it was all Republican,” she said. “I am very confident of winning the seat,” and she attributes that to the hard work done during the pandemic to keep the public informed and working as a team to marshal local and state resources and help small business and others.

At the local grassroots level, Jaffer developed a Crisis Plan, and networked with very diverse communities. Jaffer’s ancestry goes back to the Kutch region of India and to Pakistan.

“In a year when delivery of services made the difference between life and death, we stepped in to reach out,” she says. “People are interested in serious leadership and high level of experience.”

“The New Jersey Republican Party also has to deal with Trumpism and this District (16) is not for Trumpism, but the candidates have to take responsibility for it,” she contends as a factor that influences voting in her favor.

In District 18, Republican Vihal Patel was uncontested in his party primary for the State Assembly. On the Democratic side in this district, Mohin Patel lost the primary against Patrick Diegnan Jr. who won 75 percent of his party’s vote. So Patel will face off against Diegnan in November.

Bina Shah. Photo: LinkedIn

Another uncontested Republican was Agha Khan who is running for the NJ State Senate Seat from District 33. He will face off against incumbent Sen. Brian Stack who was also unopposed. Notably, Stack won the 2017 election to the State Senate with 88.22 percent of the vote while his Republican opponent got less than 12 percent. Khan’s fate is not on the winning side. Khan tried his luck back in 2016 running as a Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives from District 8 in New Jersey.

Bina Shah, another GOP candidate for the State Assembly from District 14, along with her partner on the slate Andrew Pachuta, will be pitted against Wayne DeAngelo and Daniel Benson.

One of the difficult races is the one from District 21, that saw Anjali Mehrotra, a community organizer and is President of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey.

“This is a very competitive district,” Mehrotra told Desi Talk, with incumbents being all Republicans for the longest time, but with a trend favoring Democrats over the last decade.

New Jersey Assemblyman Raj Mukherji Photo: LinkedIn

“This year is a great opportunity for a pick up,” Mehrotra said. “We’re hoping to get two more Democrats into the Assembly.”

Mehrotra and Elizabeth Graner go against Republicans Michele Matsikoudis and incumbent Nancy Munoz, who Mehrotra noted got the lowest percentage of votes despite being an incumbent.

“This is definitely an opportunity to grow the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) caucus in the Assembly,” Mehrotra said, emphasizing that she decided to run when Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, the first Indian-American to be elected to the NJ lower house, said more South Asians needed to put their hats in the ring.

District 21 is a suburban area with generally highly educated and wealthy electorate. Mehrotra sees women in the District going for her because of her past work on women’s issues.

List of Winners and Losers: New Jersey Democratic and Republican Primaries of June 8, 2021.

NJ Governor – GOP – Primary

Hirsh Singh lost in a four-way Republican primary, getting 21.49 percent of votes (ap.org). Jack Ciattarelli will be running against sitting Gov. Phil Murphy who was unopposed in the Democratic primary.

NJ State Senate

District 11

Democrat Vin Gopal was unopposed in Democratic Primary of June 8, and faces off against Republican Lori Annetta on Nov. 2, 2021.

District 18

Democrat Mohin Patel lost against Patrick Diegnan Jr. who won more than 75 percent of the Democratic Primary vote

Republican Vihal Patel won. He faces off with Patrick Diegnan Jr., the Democrat

District 33

Republican Agha Khan was uncontested and moved on the the November 2 general elections where he will confront Democratic incumbent Brian Stack.

State Assembly

District 14

Republican Bina Shah won along with Andrew Pachuta. They will compete for votes Nov. 2 against incumbent Democrats Wayne DeAngelo and Daniel Benson. In 2019, DeAngelo and Benson won around 30 percent of the vote in the general election in 2019, compared to 18 percent for Shah and 20 percent for her ticket mate Thomas Calabrese.

District 16

Democrats Sadaf Jaffer, two-term mayor of Montgomery Township, won alongside Roy Freiman

District 21

Democrats Anjali Mehrotra and Elizabeth Graner, the two top vote-getters in the primary will be going against Republicans Michele Matsikoudis and incumbent Nancy Munoz.

District 33

Democrats Raj Mukherji and Annette Chaparro won

District 37

Democrats Shama Haider won alongside Ellen Park. Haider won 36.3 percent of the vote and Park 37.1 making them the two top vote-getters, who now have to beat Republicans Edward Durfee Jr., and Perley Patrick in November.

Shruti Dhawan contributed to this report.

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