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Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia. Photo: Facebook.

Court fight coming as Edison Dem chairman refuses to hold an election

Middlesex Democrats want judge to force reorganization meeting and vote in Edison, where embattled Mahesh Bhagia is municipal chairman

By David Wildstein, August 06 2022 12:59 pm

Controversial Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia hasn’t held a county committee meeting in more than 18 months and is squatting in place after refusing to hold a reorganization meeting after the June primary election as required by state law and local party bylaws, Middlesex County Democrats are alleging in a lawsuit fled on Friday evening.

Now Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin P. McCabe and an Edison county committeeman, Thomas McCann, want a judge to order to Bhagia to hold a meeting and an election for municipal chairman.

“The issue here is simple and straightforward,” said Bill Northgrave, the Middlesex Democratic counsel, in his court filing.  “Despite the clear and unambiguous requirements for annual meetings to be held, in both law and the Organization’s bylaws, as well as the importance of such meetings, Chairman Bhagia has failed to hold an annual meeting.”

The statutory deadline to hold a reorganization meeting was July 9.

It’s not clear if Bhagia will hold on to his chairmanship.   He was re-elected in 2021 by a 66-54 vote against Councilman Ajay Patil, 55%-45%, but so far there is no announced candidate for a contest that has not yet been scheduled.

But Bhagia is clearly losing some support: one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to force an election, McCann, was a unsuccessful off-the-line candidate for township council on Bhagia’s ticket last year.

Bhagia is one of the Edison Eight, a group of local politicians accused by a U.S. Postal Inspector as being responsible for an anonymous racist flyer in 2017.  The state attorney general has empaneled a grand jury to probe the cold case.

As a result of the scandal and law enforcement investigation, McCabe refused to award the organization line for mayor last year to Bhagia and instead endorsed Sam Joshi, a councilman.  Joshi scored a landslide victory, defeating Bhagia by 29 percentage points.

Democrats have complained that Bhagia has been missing in action, maintaining that the lack of meetings potentially hampers their ability to organize Edison for the upcoming general election, when Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch), Sheriff Mildred Scott and county commissioners are on the ballot.

“As to irreparable harm, there can be no dispute that if the Organization does not hold an annual meeting to reorganize, the members of EDO are deprived of leadership at their choosing as required by the EDO by-laws, and MCDO will not have a properly constituted municipal committee,” Northgrave wrote.

Bhagia did not immediately respond to a 12:35 PM text message and his voice mail was full.

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