Deport the Asian candidates, political mailer tells voters in diverse NJ town
EDISON — It's an attack ad that nearly every political group in this township is denouncing but nobody seems to be taking credit for.
The mailer that hit mailboxes on Wednesday is headlined with "Make Edison Great Again" — evoking President Donald Trump's campaign slogan — and includes pictures of two school board candidates, one Chinese-American the other Indian-American, with a red "DEPORT" stamp under their faces.
"The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town!" it declares. "Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is enough!"
The reverse says, "Stop wasting school holidays! Stop the outsiders!"
What it doesn't say is who paid for it, as state election law requires for campaign literature.
"I'm obviously disgusted by it, to say the least," said Falguni Patel, the 32-year-old immigration lawyer whose name and picture appears on the pamphlet. "I didn't expect anything like that. We live in a such diverse town, it's very shocking somebody would put that in writing."
Patel, a Democratic committeewoman, is on a slate with three school board incumbents. She and Jingwei "Jerry" Shi are the only Asians on their team but not the only ones among the 11 candidates vying for three three-year seats and one unexpired term.
In the heart of diverse Middlesex County, this township of 100,000 residents has a massive Asian-American population. More than 45 percent of the township was born overseas.
About a quarter of the township was born in India. Over the years, these immigrants and their U.S.-born children have established a thriving "Little India" neighborhood with restaurants, grocery stores and businesses along the Oak Tree Road corridor near the Woodbridge border. In recent years, cricket pitches have become more popular than baseball diamonds at public parks.
More than 4,800 other residents were born in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. On the weekends, a Chinese community group pays the school district rent to hold Chinese language classes in classrooms, Patel says.
Another 4,200 hail from Latin America, according to Census estimates.
But longtime residents say the immigrant and native-born communities have sometimes struggled to live side-by-side over recent decades.
Councilwoman Sapana Shah says that while relations between the Indian-American community and the police have improved, for example, some tensions remain.
"I heard it when I was campaigning. I've heard it in the grocery store," she says about certain residents who think foreigners are "taking over" the township. "I don't understand where the frustration is coming from. It's gotten much worse with Trump because it's emboldened a lot of these people."
Both mayoral candidates, who are white, denounced the pamphlet on Wednesday.
Republican challenger Keith Hahn vowed to find out who the "anonymous cowards" are behind the mailer.
"Disgraceful and offensive campaign tactics cannot be tolerated," he said on Facebook. "If anyone else has received this piece please message me, it will help the investigation greatly."
Mayor Tom Lankey, a Democrat, called the mailer "despicable."
"Edison has proudly embraced our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity," he said in a statement sent to New Jersey 101.5. "It has become a sad reality that in our polarized political atmosphere, some people suddenly feel empowered to publicly express these vile ideas. Make no mistake, we will do everything we can to expose the shameful people behind this."
Patel, who is seeking public office for the first time, said she expected some negativity in a township known for hard-knuckle campaigning. But not like this.
"As I was knocking on doors, I wasn’t always being received so well. But nobody had outright said anything to me to my face," she said.
"I was born and raised in New Jersey. To see the word 'deport' on my picture — where are you going to deport me to? Really, it's just outrageous."
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Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.