By REBECCA HERSH
Three candidates – Samip “Sam” Joshi, Arthur Esposito and Mahesh Bhagia – are vying for the Democratic Party’s support in Edison’s 2021 race for mayor, and incumbent Mayor Thomas Lankey is not among them – yet.
Joshi and Esposito participated in the April 25 Greater New Brunswick Area League of Women Voters and Edison Together candidate’s forum, whose purpose is to educate the residents and inspire them to vote in the June 8 primary election in Edison, which is the fifth largest municipality in the state of New Jersey, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Both candidates frequently referenced their longtime, deep and passionate connection to the community.
The debate questions focused on traffic, infrastructure, schools, recreation facilities, police, taxes and ratables. Noteworthy is the fact that racism – which has played a heated role in the political rhetoric between Joshi and Bhagia – never came up in questions generated by the League or those that came directly from the public.
Bhagia has been implicated in a racist flier from Edison’s 2017 school board race, but has denied any of the allegations against him.
The one question that best reflected the candidates’ opinions throughout the debate was the question of what they hoped to accomplish as mayor. Joshi, who currently serves as vice president on the Edison Township Council, said that he has spoken to thousands of residents and he has learned that the township has problems that differ from neighborhood to neighborhood. He said that he intends to address issues unique to each section of town.
Broadly speaking, he said, the crucial issues are tax stabilization, “constructing a new master plan that will address the needs of each neighborhood,” and technology both to improve the school system and the economy overall.
Esposito said if he were mayor, he would prioritize the welfare of the children in Edison, repair the roads, and stop building until facts indicate that the town’s facilities and infrastructure can handle growth. He noted that Edison “is getting old and the city needs to be updated.”
When asked about restructuring the police department to respond to the police behavioral issues being confronted elsewhere in the country, neither candidate favored defunding the police or radical restructuring. Esposito discussed the value of training and noted that Edison has a great police department.
Joshi said that as mayor, he would also serve as the public safety director for the community. Given the significant responsibility of this role, Joshi said he would see to it that Edison had the most qualified and best trained police force possible.
“Edison represents so many different cultures. We have the opportunity to showcase to the rest of America” how to attain a police department that has zero tolerance for bad behavior but also provides strong protections for the residents and the welfare of the police department staff, he said.
Improving recreation and senior services also would be a priority for both candidates if they were elected mayor.
Joshi said the town needed a new recreation center and a new park plan.
“We need to refresh all 32 of the community’s parks, take pride in every park in every neighborhood,” he said.
Esposito said he agreed but wondered how to fund a new recreation center. He also did not answer a question about whether he would support an Open Space Tax, a source of revenue that Joshi fully supported.
In his closing statement, Esposito, aware that some questions he did not answer with specifics, noted he would learn because he listens and his door is “always open. … I will always tell the truth. … I am for the people. … I love this town.”
Joshi predicted that Edison’s “best days are ahead of us.” He added that not only was he born and raised in Edison, but he has years of experience serving people of Edison. He said he would “hit the ground running,” create a responsive master plan, pay attention to the needs of each individual neighborhood, and proactively build up Edison as a science and technology hub by working closely with the hospitals and educational institutions within the township – “a beautiful town” with a “beautiful future.”
Lankey has alluded to possibly running as an independent, but his name will not appear on the primary ballot.
Bhagia, who was removed from the Middlesex County Democratic Organization’s party line on the ballot due to the racist flier allegations, could not be reached by press time.
For the primary on June 8, Joshi is running on the same slate as council candidates Margot Harris, John Poyner and Dr. Nishith Patel.
Other Democratic candidates are Thomas McCann, Xiaohan “Shannon” Peng and Sparshil Patel.
The Republican candidate for mayor is Keith Hahn.
Republican council members candidates are Payal Mehta, Tali Epstein and Joe Luistro.