Mayoral candidate responds to claims he was involved in racist flier

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Edison mayoral candidate Mahesh Bhagia, who has been endorsed by the Edison Democratic Organization for the November election, issued the following statement on March 10 regarding an investigation into a racist flier that was distributed in the community in 2017:

“The racial flier was shameful and deplorable, and I was personally offended when I saw it. I also believe creating a sham investigation of the flier to further personal political ambitions and target political opponents is equally shameful and deplorable.

“For nearly three-and-a-half years, I have watched with disgust as the Edison Township Council fumbled around and took part in a politicized witch hunt instead of searching for facts and the truth.

“For the record, I have testified, under oath, before the Committee of the Whole and answered all the questions posed to me.

“In contrast, the ones who benefited the most from this flier which was circulated during their political campaign in 2017 – Mayor Tom Lankey and Township Council members Sam Joshi, Bob Diehl and Alvaro Gomez – have yet to testify under oath.

“The attacks against me are wholly untrue and are being spread by politicians who have at every turn opposed the reforms we seek.

“Council members Bob Diehl, Sam Joshi, Ajay Patil, along with Mayor Lankey, are more interested in holding on to power, at any cost, instead of doing their jobs on behalf of Edison residents,” Bhagia said.

Bhagia claimed potential suspects in the case are running the investigation.

“In no other situation would this be considered fair or acceptable,” he said.

He said in 2017, he was not on the ballot and had no reason to participate in the creation of the fliers.

Bhagia also said the allegations keep changing about who distributed the racist flier by mail on Oct. 31, 2017, which had the faces of the two candidates, Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel, who are of Asian descent. The flier stated “Make Edison Great Again” and underneath each photo was the word “Deport.”

At a Committee of the Whole meeting in November 2020, the committee read United States Postal Inspector David Comer’s report verbatim, which named six members of the community who were allegedly involved in assembling or mailing the flier: Satish Poondi, the legal adviser for the Indian Business Association who previously served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Community Relations in Edison; Raj Bhagia; Mohin Patel, who is now an Edison BOE member; Councilman Ajay Patil; BOE member Jerry Shi; and Shariq Ahmad, the former chairman of the Edison Democratic Organization.

Since the meeting, Shi, Patil and Ahmad have denied their involvement with the racist fliers.

“First, the committee stated the fliers were made at Chowpatty Restaurant. Then, when I declared my campaign for mayor, overnight, Joshi changed the story and alleged it was made in my basement.

“In a desperate effort to keep power, Lankey, Diehl and Joshi are now attacking New Jersey Attorney General (Gurbir) Grewal, a man of impeccable character,” Mahesh Bhagia said.

In his statement, Mahesh Bhagia said he agrees with Councilman Joe Coyle that Joshi should be removed from the Committee of the Whole for allegedly compromising the investigation and wasting years’ worth of taxpayer dollars.

“This investigation should be run by real law enforcement, not political hacks who have run Edison into the ground. Our taxes are too high, our water system is broken, our schools are overcrowded, and Edison politics is conducted in back rooms with special interest groups.

“We are going to change that, despite the best efforts of Lankey, Diehl, Joshi and Gomez to preserve the status quo. They have no record to stand on and so they resort to slinging mud. But Edison voters will not be duped by them again,” Mahesh Bhagia said.

Lankey and Diehl appealed to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and/or the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office earlier this month to step in and bring those responsible for the racist flier that was distributed by mail during the 2017 Edison Township Public Schools Board of Education election to justice.

In the audio, Patil, the Edison councilman, said he was not involved and learned about the fliers three days before the November 2017 election after Poondi asked him to come by Bhagia’s home.

Patil alleged Bhagia and Shi had already put 1,500 labels on the fliers and that Poondi, in the recording, told him they were moving forward with distributing the flier.

Diehl said Patil told them the architects of the racial flier were allegedly Poondi, Raj Bhagia and Mahesh Bhagia, who was not named in the initial report. In the recording, Diehl said Shi was aware of the fliers.