EDISON — As campaign season gets underway in Edison, elected officials on both sides of the aisle do not want the hatred they witnessed last year to ever happen again.
The 2017 election season took an offensive tone when a racist flier was distributed by mailing on Oct. 31, 2017. The faces of the two Board of Education candidates, Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel, who are of Asian descent, were accompanied by the statement “Make Edison Great Again” and the word “Deport” under their faces.
The incident garnered national attention.
“It was disgusting and embarrassing,” said Councilman Robert Diehl, who has been in touch with law enforcement officials since the incident occurred.
The Township Council approved a resolution in support of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office efforts to bring “criminal charges” against the individual(s) who participated in the preparation and/or dissemination of the flier at a meeting on Sept. 12.
“We are making it clear tonight that this action, this type of political strategy you want to employ, this type of shenanigan, whatever you want to call it, this will not be tolerated,” Diehl said.
Many members of the public came to a meeting on Aug. 22 calling for the person(s) involved to be held accountable.
“It’s been nine months since the investigation [started] and we haven’t heard any update,” said Keith Hahn, who ran as the Republican candidate for mayor in Edison last year.
Hahn, who asked the council for the resolution, had called the flier “shameful and disgraceful.”
“[The resolution] is the only way for us to prevent this from happening and we cannot allow this to happen and become the norm in our elections,” he said.
Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan said the investigation on the fliers is in the hands of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. He said because the Attorney General’s Office oversees the prosecutor’s office and all the municipal law enforcement agencies in the state, he is not at liberty to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Peter Aseltine, public information officer for the Attorney General’s Office, said the office’s policy “is that we neither confirm nor deny investigations.”
“We do not have any comment,” he said.
Sylvia Engle, chair for the township’s Republican Party, said during the election, the Republican Party was unfairly blamed for the fliers.
“I got many calls on it and the first call I got was ‘Sylvia, did we do this?'” she recalled. “I was totally shocked. … I was absolutely disgusted. It’s not what I believe.”
Engle said there is no racism in Edison’s Republican Party, noting the party was the first to endorse an Asian Indian candidate for council.
“I want the person [responsible for the fliers] held accountable,” she said.
Former Councilman Wayne Mascola asked Township Attorney Leslie London what the council could do to move the investigation forward. London said officials will have to look into the matter.
“[The investigation] is with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and we are not sure what stage the investigation is in,” she said.
Diehl said once a resolution is put together and sent to the Attorney General’s Office, the next step is to wait for a response.
“If [the response] is not to our liking, I can assure and promise you we will do something else,” he said, “We’re not going to let this die.”
Diehl said good news since the meeting in August, additional testimony and evidence on the matter has been brought forth to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office.
Mayor Thomas Lankey said the Council’s resolution clearly expresses his sentiments.
“I was first to denounce that racist flier last November,” he said in a statement. “I was first to alert law enforcement and to demand a full investigation to find the person or persons responsible.”
Lankey said the Edison community “proudly embraces our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.”
“We do not and we will never tolerate such despicable acts,” he said.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.