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3 Indian Americans Among 4 Candidates Running for Mayor of Edison, New Jersey

3 Indian Americans Among 4 Candidates Running for Mayor of Edison, New Jersey

  • While Sapna Shah and Mahesh Bhagia have announced their campaigns, Sam Joshi has launched an exploratory committee and will announce his candidacy on Feb. 25. 

Three Indian Americans are among four candidates running for the post of the Mayor of Edison, New Jersey’s fifth largest municipality. While Sapna Shah, an attorney and former Edison councilwoman, and Mahesh Bhagia, municipal chairman of the Edison Democratic Organization, have officially announced their candidacy, Councilman Sam Joshi has launched an exploratory committee. Joshi has confirmed to American Kahani that he will officially launch his mayoral campaign on Feb. 25. The three are seeking the Edison Democratic party nomination in the June primary, along with Councilman Richard Brescher. If elected, Shah, Bhagia or Joshi could become the township’s first Indian American mayor. 

Bhagia told American Kahani that he decided to run for mayor because Edison needs a leader who will put the town and its residents first. “Edison is a great community and we have all the pieces to succeed, great geography, passionate and compassionate residents, a history of innovation, a diverse cultural fabric, and a wonderful small business community,” he says. “But we need to act now to create a cohesive vision for Edison that provides us with an open and transparent government, stable taxes and better services. That is what has been missing, and that is what my administration will offer.”

Noting that Edison has been missing leadership during the “difficult” COVID-19 pandemic, Bhagia said his administration will be “fully transparent.” He said as mayor, he will “be accessible, and that, even as we focus on the larger picture, we will never forget the everyday services that you have every right to expect. Clean water, reliable garbage and recycling services, drivable roads, usable parks and recreation, and public safety.” 

Bhagia has lived in Edison for over 20 years. His wife is a practicing dentist in Edison and they have two daughters attending Edison Public Schools.

Edison has a significant Indian American population. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, there  28,286 Asian Indians in the township. AAPI Data reveals that Edison, one of the largest cities in New Jersey, also has one of the largest Asian populations in the state. “The share of Asian residents in Edison is five times larger than the share of Asians in the New Jersey population as a whole,” the data reveals. “While Asians make up 9 percent of the population in New Jersey, they are 47 percent of the population in Edison. “The Asian population in Edison grew by 20 percent, compared to 2.3 percent for the general population from the 2006-2010 to the 2011-2015 American Community Survey reporting periods,” the data says. 

“Edison Township’s municipal government has been more progressive than many other communities,” notes Shah. “People here elected the first Indian American to our township Council in 2001. In the years since, voters here elected three more Indian Americans to our Council and they elected a Korean-American mayor.”

“New Jersey has been slow to embrace candidates of diversity for state, county and local offices. That is gradually changing. I believe that America’s representative form of government works best when elected and appointed public officials reflect and can relate to their constituency.” 

And it is this aspect of the township that both Shah and Bhagia want to tap. “Edison’s diversity is one of its strongest assets,” Bhagia says. “My administration will embrace the township’s diversity and that means having a township government that reflects all facets of the township’s population.”

Adds Shah: “New Jersey has been slow to embrace candidates of diversity for state, county and local offices. That is gradually changing. I believe that America’s representative form of government works best when elected and appointed public officials reflect and can relate to their constituency.” 

Although she could be the township’s first mayor of South Asian heritage, Shah says her goal is not to be a South Asian mayor. “I will be a mayor who can bridge the cultural divide; who understands and will serve the needs of all residents with professionalism and honor.”

An attorney in private practice, Shah is a former Edison Township Council and Board of Education member. She also serves as part-time Assistant Corporation Counsel for Jersey City, providing legal advice and drafting ordinances and resolutions for city officials. 

“I am ready to rise to the challenge of serving as mayor of Edison,” she told American Kahani.  “My legal experience, business management and leadership skills make me the best qualified choice to help my hometown become a stronger, more prosperous place for people to live, raise families and work.”

As mayor, Shah says her priorities include stabilizing property taxes for homeowners and small businesses; working to improve the town’s aging infrastructure and improve the drinking water quality. “I will vigorously appeal to federal and state officials for as much recovery assistance as possible for Edison’s small business community,” she says. 

Shah’s family moved to Edison in 1984 from Chicago, when she was a child. Educated in the local public school district and 1994 alumni of J.P. Stevens High School, Shah earned an Economics degree from Rutgers University; a Law degree from Albany Law School–Union University; and she worked as a financial analyst for Dun & Bradstreet before law school.

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Shah, Bhagia and Brescher are seeking the nomination of the Edison Democratic Organization at their virtual convention on Feb. 24. Bhagia is the municipal chairman of the organization. He was elected to the position at the Edison Democratic Organization’s reorganization meeting, which was held July 21, 2020.

However, Joshi told American Kahani that he is bypassing this step. “I am not seeking the endorsement of the local Democratic committee,” he said, adding that he is “preserving all other routes and options.” He explains further. “The chairman who controls the committee [Bhagia] and is responsible for designating the endorsement of the committee, is himself seeking the nomination for mayor,” Joshi says, stating his reasons to not attend the Feb. 24 convention. The Edison Democratic Organization has 156 members. 

Despite his decision,  Joshi is confident that he has a “better chance of winning.” Election law requires a candidate to file and disclose how much funds he has, he notes. “I have 5 times more cash on hand.” 

Joshi has been involved in local government since age 14. “A dedicated public servant, Joshi was the youngest to serve on the Fair Rental Housing Authority and the Zoning Board of Adjustment,” says his profile on his official Facebook page. 

Last week, Joshi posted a video on his official Facebook page, where he further elaborates on his reasons to skip the Feb. 24 convention. “The rules and procedures for the convention were provided 12 days prior to the convention, but to date they have not been finalized and are subject to change until seven days before the convention.” He continues: “The voting is going to occur via a paper ballot and no one except the chairman’s hired coordinator and council is allowed to physically present as a poll challenger until the counting is already finished. These are terms I simply cannot subject our campaign to.”

Acknowledging that there will be many hurdles in his campaign, he shared a few updates with his supporters in the video. “We have raised almost $100,000,” he said. “Our small dollar donations have crossed 500 individual donors, not one of which came from builders or establishment funds. In fact, I have declined thousands from builders and I will not take money from builders at all. We have also crossed 600 volunteer signups. I have been working on campaigns for almost half of my life and I am excited because these are unprecedented numbers,” he said. “Between two official and countless unofficial polls, this campaign has by far the most name recognition and popularity in Edison Township.”

Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.

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