HOBOKEN — Hoboken Mayor-Elect Ravi Bhalla was elected less than a week ago — and racially charged misinformation about the first Sikh mayor in New Jersey is already following him around.

A story appearing on several ostensibly right-wing sites with names like "Patriot USA" and "Reagan Was Right" makes a series of plainly false claims about Bhalla, most under the headline "Muslim New Jersey Mayor Just Abolished Christmas ‘To Respect Other Religions.'" At least one continues with "Please Step In, President Trump."

The story is full of demonstrable errors — including calling Bhalla a Muslim, when he is Sikh, a faith common to India (Bhalla, though, was born and raised in New Jersey). An eagle eye will notice other untruths — like the claim he'll "take office on November 29, just in time for Christmas" (he'll take office in January) or that "outgoing mayor Shelly Hoberstein" is getting calls about Bhalla's plans (the outgoing mayor is named Dawn Zimmer).

And the basic premise of the story is just as untrue — it claims Bhalla plans to cancel all "'government involvement in the Christian holiday Christmas' out of respect for 'other religions.'"

Juan Melli, the city's communication manager called the rumors "bogus," and "racist garbage." He said the city will hold its annual Christmas tree lighting on Dec. 5, and its annual City Hall Holiday Crafts Fair on Dec. 2 and 3. Melli also noted that there is also a menorah lighting that is organized by a local synagogue. The city has held a tree lighting for several years, including during Zimmer's term in office as the first Jewish mayor of the city.

Rob Horowitz, a spokesperson for Bhalla, said "there's a lot of rumors out there on social media, many of them are not true, and this one is flat out false."

Horowitz said much like the flyer that circulated around the city during the election tying Bhalla's religion to terrorism, the mayor-elect was instead choosing to focus on how he can best serve his fellow Hoboken residents.

"We know that Hoboken is a welcoming and diverse place where Mayor-Elect Bhalla is proud to live and raise his family," he said. "The election results show that people made their decisions based on the mayor-elect's qualifications and his plans for moving Hoboken forward, not on what religion he happens to practice."

The flyer said in large, red words “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town!” The rest of the flyer alleges a conflict of interest involving a utility deal and makes no further mention of terrorism. While printing on the flyer claims it was funded by candidate Mike DeFusco, he refuted that claim prior to the election.

While Horowitz said Bhalla was aware of the rumors being spread about him on the internet, he was not focused on it.

"This comes with the territory. What the mayor-elect is focused on is assembling the best team and working hard to move Hoboken forward, and making sure that Hoboken's best days are yet to come."

He said since the election last week Bhalla has been "very engaged in transition activities," as he looks forward to being sworn in on New Years Day.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com


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