An active investigation into a racist 2017 flyer has created a seismic shift in the Edison mayoral race, with Middlesex County Democrats are giving their organization line to Sam Joshi, bypassing the Democratic municipal chairman, Mahesh Bhagia.
Bhagia has been accused of being one of the masterminds behind the flyer, and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has now empaneled a grand jury and subpoenaed documents related to a municipal probe of the incident.
Kevin McCabe, the county chairman, told county election officials on Wednesday that he’s putting Joshi, a 31-year-old councilman, on an organization line headed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Joshi had sought an open primary and apparently had not considered the possibility that he would get the line alone.
The Edison mailer promised to “Make Edison Great Again,” by telling voters that the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.” It targeted school board candidates of Chinese and Indian descent, with the word “deported” stamped over their photos.
Eidson is New Jersey’s fifth largest municipality.
As one of the embattled Edison Eight allegedly involved in the scandal, Bhagia has watched some of his party support rapidly erode after Grewal decided he’d try to crack the 42-month-old cold case.
The move to support Joshi comes seven weeks after Edison Democrats voted to endorse Bhagia with 72% of the vote. Joshi skipped the screening process and said he would proceed directly to the primary.
The turning point for Middlesex County Democrats came on Monday, when several Bhagia allies filed their own line against the organization.
Mohin Patel, a school bord member and one of the Edison Eight, filed as a State Senate candidate against incumbent Patrick Diegnan (D-South Plainfield), with running mates taking on Assemblymen Robert Karabinchak (D-Edison) and Sterley Stanley (D-East Brunswick). The Bhagia-connected slate also includes candidates for surrogate and county commissioner.
Joshi has been a critic of Bhagia over his alleged role in a scandal that made national news nearly four years ago.
Another councilman, Ajay Patil, a onetime Bhagia ally, was captured on tape identifying Bhagia and Satish Poondi, a partner at the Wilentz law firm, as the architects of the racist flyer conspiracy.
Democrats are concerned that Bhagia’s baggage could cause them to lose the general election. The Republican candidate is Keith Hahn, a police officer and former Democratic municipal chairman who won 41% of the vote as the GOP mayoral candidate four years ago.
The two-term incumbent, Thomas Lankey, did not file to run in the Demcoratic primary. He is mulling a possible re-election bid as an independent – a route his predecessor, Toni Ricigliano, took in 2013. Lankey defeated her, 49%-27%, in a five-candidate field.
Joshi’s slate of township council candidates will also get the line: Margot Harris, a former school board member and Democratic municipal vice chair; John Poyner, a member of the Edison Environmental Commission; and Dr. Nishith Patel, a pharmaceutical manager.