By REBECCA HERSH
EDISON – In the upcoming Democratic Primary Election on June 8, the personalities, visions and qualifications of those running for the office of Edison Township Council have been dominated by the political tension between the two Democratic Party factions battling for control in the township.
The issue receiving attention is name placement on the ballot and how ballot placement might influence a voter’s choice.
One slate of candidates, led by Samip “Sam” Joshi, who is running for mayor of Edison, has been endorsed by the Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO), the official Democratic organization in the county that determines name placement on the ballot.
An MCDO endorsed candidate gets the “in column” ballot placement and is in the same column with the high visibility Democratic candidates, including Gov. Phil Murphy, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Robert Menendez.
Joshi’s runningmates are Margot Harris, Dr. Nishith Patel and John Poyner.
Those candidates running without the MCDO endorsement have their names appearing on the ballot in the “off-column” position and supposedly are at an electoral disadvantage, according to reports.
In Edison, the off-column candidates were all endorsed by the Edison Democratic Organization (the municipal Democratic organization) that does not have the ballot placement authority.
The Edison Democrats recently changed its name to the Democrats of Middlesex County. The candidates running as the Democrats of Middlesex County are on a slate led by mayoral candidate Mahesh Bhagia.
Bhagia’s runningmates are Thomas McCann, Xiaohan “Shannon” Peng, and Sparshil Patel.
In addition, Democrat Arthur Esposito will have his name on the ballot for the mayor’s position.
Current Mayor Thomas Lankey is currently not running for re-election. He has alluded to possibly running as an independent before the November election, but his name will not appear on the primary ballot.
The profiles below are listed in alphabetical order, per position.
Mahesh Bhagia for mayor
Professionally, Bhagia is the chief operating officer of Hotel Construction & Operations Management, where he oversees a multi-million dollar budget. His key responsibility is to deliver projects on time, on schedule, and within budget. A long-term resident, he is personally vested in the community where his two children go to school and his wife has a dental practice. He has spent years in government and community positions serving the residents of Edison. His positions included: chair of the Edison Democratic Organization, special assistant to the mayor of Edison, and member of the Edison Township Finance Committee.
His personal statement reflects the vision of all those running on his slate. The goal of this slate of candidates is to make “government services more easily accessible to the residents” through innovative technology. Bhagia is focused on building a strong, vibrant, and diverse local Democratic Party as EDO chairman, and he said he “offers a pragmatic vision on how together we can move Edison forward.”
Arthur Esposito for mayor
Esposito participated in the April 25 Greater New Brunswick Area League of Women Voters and Edison Together candidate’s forum. He 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, Esposito discussed the value of training and noted that Edison has a great police department.
Esposito 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.”
Sam Joshi for mayor
A native of Edison, Joshi has had a versatile background in both public policy and business. He is the executive vice president at SD Capital funding, a New Jersey-based mortgage company. He also has worked as a strategy advisor, speech writer,and campaign manager, and policy developer for a variety of candidates running for offices in New Jersey. He is currently serving on Edison Township Council as its vice president, a position he has held since 2018. In addition, he is a member of the board of directors for The Jewish Renaissance Foundation, a health care and social services organization.
Joshi’s personal statement reflects themes reiterated by the candidates running for council with him. “Edison is where I was born and raised. I am running for mayor to make a positive impact in our community. Using my experience and education, as mayor, I will form a new township Master Plan, prioritize smart growth investments, such as launching municipal broadband for faster and cheaper internet that would generate revenue to offset high taxes, increase the value of our properties, cut municipal waste, and build a community that we are proud of now and for the future.”
Margot Harris for council
Harris has spent over 40 years as a clinical social worker, working to help people facing significant emotional challenges. She served on the Edison Board of Education from 2012-15 and was one of the dissenting members who voted against moving school board elections to November because she was concerned about politics infiltrating the board and schools. The former vice chair of the Edison Democratic Committee, Harris is a 25-year Edison resident.
“I am running because as a former member of the Board of Ed, I feel a call to duty to work collaboratively with the town to respond to problems such as high taxes, overcrowded schools and overdevelopment,” Harris said.
Thomas McCann for council
Lifelong Edison resident, and father of two children, McCann has been a member of the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 9 for nearly 35 years. He is a dedicated volunteer for the Boy Scouts and youth sports, and is an avid fisherman who loves the annual fishing derby. He believes in giving back to the community, as indicated by his years of managing and coaching baseball and T-ball, being a Cub Scout Den leader, and a Merit Badge counselor for the Plumbing Merit Badges.
“I am humbled to receive the support of the Edison Democratic Organization. Together, we will work to finally get the township’s finances in order,” McCann said.
Dr. Nishith Patel for council
Patel, a homeowner in Edison since 2016, has worked in the community for nearly two decades, beginning his career in the pharmaceutical industry as an intern at the Edison Pathmark in 2005. Currently, he works as a pharmacy manager for Walgreens, where he has been employed since 2014. He has spent many hours volunteering at Monmouth Medical Center.
“I am running because I believe in Sam’s [Joshi] vision of municipality broadband. The internet is an essential service to our ever-connected lives. With internet service providers putting data caps in California and in Canada, it is only time they will bring those limitations to us. Limiting our ability to innovate, our ability to connect with one another or simply enjoying the new movie in 8K. I hope that with Sam’s vision that we can solve this issue before it becomes a bigger problem,” Patel said.
Sparshil Patel for council
Patel has a career in long-term care care consulting that includes reviewing and establishing policies & procedures, providing in-service education, and preparing long-term care providers for licensure. His community contributions include: administering health care services and medication during the pandemic, serving on the Edison Schools Pandemic Response Task Force, and providing personal protective equipment to various EMS/fire and police in Edison.
“I am truly honored that the Edison Democratic Party has placed their trust in me to help our residents and small businesses recover from this pandemic. I will bring my skills and experience to find solutions to this challenging moment in time,” Patel said.
Shannon Peng for council
Elected to the Board of Education in 2016, Peng has focused on reforming district finances and solving the overcrowding crisis. She is a 14-year resident of Edison and the mother of two children who attend the Edison Public Schools. Peng’s expertise is in computer technology and she works as a technology analyst and software engineer. She brings her tech skills and expertise to her role on the school board. Additional community service includes being a volunteer for Autism Speaks and Huaxia Chinese School and co-founder of the Local Runner’s Club.
“Together with a clear vision, constant communication, and an unparalleled work ethic, we will start moving Edison towards a brighter future,” Peng said.
John Poyner for council
Poyner, who works as a graphic designer and an estimator in the residential construction industry, moved to Edison with his wife in 2015 to start a family and are raising their two young daughters in town. He has been involved in the community since moving here, by serving on the Clara Barton Neighborhood Preservation Committee and the Edison Environmental Commission. He has been a strong advocate against overdevelopment in residential neighborhoods and has participated in numerous township forums over the years. John currently works as a graphic designer and an estimator in the residential construction industry.
He said he is running for council “to bring modern ideas and solutions to address issues the township faces. Several areas of focus include; fiscal responsibility, overdevelopment and sprawl, school overcrowding, infrastructure planning, park enhancements and improving the quality of life for residents. These will be guided by revamping the Master Plan, creating a guideline, that accounts for today’s environment,” Poyner said.
On the Republican ticket, Keith Hahn is running for mayor with council candidates Payal Mehta, Tali Epstein and Joe Luistro. Their race is uncontested for the primary.