BY REBECCA HERSH
In what is usually behind-the-scenes power wrangling, the feud between Edison’s local Democratic Party members and the Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO) has gone public.
The MCDO denied the will of the Edison Democratic Party Committee by throwing its official support behind Edison Councilman Sam Joshi for the Edison mayoral position, instead of backing Mahesh Bhagia, the candidate favored by the Edison Democrats.
Bhagia, who serves as chair of the local Edison Democratic Party, won the local party’s endorsement in February by a 3-to-1 margin.
According to a statement issued on April 8, the Middlesex County Democratic Committee, whose chairman is Kevin McCabe, awarded the “party line” for the Edison mayoral position to Joshi. This means that Joshi’s name appears on the ballot in the “regular” Democratic column.
Joshi, who serves as vice president on the Edison Council, and his running mates will now appear on the MCDO county line along with Gov. Phil Murphy, NJ State Senator Patrick Diegnan, NJ Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak, NJ Assemblyman Sterley Stanley, Claribel Cortes for Surrogate, and Ronald Rios and Shanti Narra for County Commissioner.
Bhagia will still run in the primary, but his name on the ballot will be outside of the Democratic Party column.
If elected, Bhagia, a former special assistant to Edison’s current Mayor Tom Lankey, would become the first South Asian mayor in Middlesex County.
Lankey, who has secured the support of neither the Edison Democratic Party nor the MCDO, has said that he may run as an independent for the position of mayor.
The rhetoric between the Joshi and Bhagia camps has gotten heated with accusations of racism being part of the attacks on both candidates.
Bhagia’s supporters reportedly have accused Joshi of having a history of racism against the Chinese community in Edison, including most recently refusing to condemn Edison’s Special Assistant to the Mayor Nilesh Dasond for his alleged racial slur against Chinese.
However, the MCDO’s refusal to back Bhagia reportedly is due to the fact that they claim he has indirect ties to campaign fliers that they deemed racist that were circulated during the township’s 2017 school board election. His brother Raj Bhagia was among the eight people named in a U.S. Postal Service report who were supposedly involved in creating the “false flag” fliers that were allegedly circulated to instill fear among Edison’s minority residents.
In mid-March, the New Jersey Attorney General’s office subpoenaed Edison Township for documents related to the anonymous racist flyer and empaneled a grand jury to determine if anyone will be charged.
“We all worked hard to go through the legal process to receive the MCDO line, but the party bosses decided to put their self interest first,” Bhagia said in a statement. “I am running for open and transparent government and vendor reform.”
Joshi, upon receiving the endorsements from leading New Jersey elected officials – including Murphy, U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney, NJ Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and the entire Middlesex County Board of Commissioners – said that he was “honored and humbled to gain this level of support and these endorsements. … We must bring Edison together to move forward, and I know that I’m the right candidate to get that important work done” according to a statement he released.