Edison Councilman Sam Joshi defeated Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia to win the Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday in a race defined by a racist 2017 mail piece.
Joshi earned 5,868 votes to Bhagia’s 3,145.
He also defeated longtime Edison resident Arthur Esposito, who ran on the “Democrat for Change” slate and got 300 votes.
Joshi’s slate of council candidates, one that includes social worker Margot Harris, Beautiful Edison Director John Poyner and pharmacist Nishith Patel, triumphed over Bhagia’s running mates, pipefitter Thomas McCann, School Board member Shannon Peng and former School Board candidate Sparshil Patel.
Esposito did not bracket with any other candidates.
Bhagia’s prospects of winning the mayorship dimmed after a U.S. Postal Service investigation implicated him and seven others in the drafting off a racist 2017 mailer that urged township voters to “Make Edison Great Again” and warned the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”
The mailer, apparently a bid to boost the campaigns of School Board president Jerry Shi and School Board candidate Falguni Patel by animating Edison voters against racism, is now the subject of a state criminal probe.
Middlesex County Democrats broke with the Bhagia-led local party to award Joshi the line after growing increasingly uncomfortable with the local chairman’s alleged role in the mailer.
Prominent Democrats who had endorsed Bhagia’s mayoral bid, including State Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-South Brunswick) and Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-Edison), pulled their endorsements after it became clear the chairman was fielding candidates against them.
In an unusual step, Bhagia ran a full slate of candidates for state and county office. It appeared to be a bid to overcome the advantage the Middlesex County Democratic line lent to Joshi and his team.
Edison, the state’s sixth-largest municipality and which hosts one of the country’s larges South Asian communities, saw renewed drama after a Bhagia supporter sent a mailer seeking to leverage lingering resentment over the Partition of India.
The newer race-baiting mailer, sent out by Bhagia supporter and former Republican Woodcliff Lake Councilman Corrado Belgiovine, touted a prominent Pakistani community leader’s endorsement of Joshi.
The flyer was sent exclusively to the town’s Gujarati residents. Gujarat is an Indian state that borders Pakistan. The mailer sought to invoke lingering animus over the partition, which saw colonial India split into two states in 1947.
The partition saw widespread violence along religious lines. As many as 2 million died, though estimates vary widely, and between 10 and 20 million were displaced.
Joshi’s bid drew support from some of the state’s most prominent Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-North Bergen) and Cory Booker (D-Newark) and Gov. Phil Murphy, who rallied Edison voters in support of Joshi Monday.
The victors will go on to face Republican mayoral candidate Keith Hahn and his council running mates, Tali Epstein, Joseph Luistro and Payal Mehta, who were all unopposed in their primaries.