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Several South Asian Americans Advance in Both Democrat and Republican Primaries in New Jersey

Several South Asian Americans Advance in Both Democrat and Republican Primaries in New Jersey

  • Sam Joshi wins Democratic nomination for mayor of Edison in a highly-contentious race, while incumbent state Sen. Vin Gopal and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji run uncontested in re-election bid.

From New Jersey Senate, Legislature and local municipalities, scores of South Asian American candidates advanced in the Democratic and Republican primaries held on June 8, an indication that the community is engaged in local and state politics and ready to have its voices heard. 

In one of the highly-contested mayoral races, Edison Council Vice President Sam Joshi won the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Edison, defeating Edison Democratic chair Mahesh Bhagia. Joshi was on Column A with Gov. Phil Murphy and the entire Middlesex County Regular Democratic Organization candidates, while Bhagia ran with a slate of candidates on Column B and newcomer Arthur Esposito. According to many political insiders in Edison, the highly contested primary was believed to be a two-way race between Joshi and Bhagia. 

Joshi, who was endorsed by Gov. Murphy, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Senators Bob Melendez and Cory Booker, has been campaigning on a platform of creating a township-wide municipal broadband to give residents faster, cheaper internet, reducing taxes and increasing municipal services and recreational programs. Running with Joshi are Council candidates Margot Harris, John Poyner and Dr. Nishith Patel.

“The people of Edison have spoken and now it’s time for our Democratic Party and our community to come together and move forward into a new era of progress,” Joshi said after his victory. “I could not be more excited to hopefully have the opportunity to lead Edison into that new day. I want to thank my campaign team, the many Democratic leaders who embraced my candidacy and especially the people of Edison who saw clearly that we need a new direction for our community. I look forward to the general election and hopefully to beginning a new administration in January that will deliver the bold, transformative leadership that Edison deserves.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary officially won the nomination as he vies for a second term as New Jersey’s governor. “New Jersey, thank you for putting your faith in me these past four years and at the polls today,” he said on his social media handles on June 8. “But the job’s not done yet. I need you on my team as we look to November — join us.”

Murphy will now face former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, who won a four-way primary for the Republican nomination. Ciattarelli defeated businessman Hirsh V. Singh and Phil Rizzo, who have campaigned as fervent supporters of former President Donald Trump, and Brian D. Levine, a former Franklin Township mayor and Somerset County freeholder. 

“The people of Edison have spoken and now it’s time for our Democratic Party and our community to come together and move forward into a new era of progress,” Joshi said after his victory.

This was Singh’s fifth bid for public office. Last year, he was one of five Republican candidates who challenged Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, but lost in the primaries to another Indian American – pharmacist and lawyer Rik Mehta. Earlier this year, Mehta had filed a defamation lawsuit against Singh. Local news reports including, New Jersey Globe and Insider NJ said at the time that in the lawsuit, Mehta accused Singh of spending more than $300,000 on a “smear campaign to flout the truth and create a series of repeated lies” through press releases, digital advertising and mailers. It alleges that Sing’s campaign targeted Mehta’s background as a pharmaceutical executive, accusing him of promoting dangerous opioids for Big Pharma and labeling him a “baby-killer” for selling “abortion pills.”  

In 2017, Singh made a gubernatorial bid, claiming to have raised $900,000 that would have qualified him for the GOP primary debates, but the New Jersey Election Enforcement Commission (ELEC) refused to permit him to participate, saying it had no records of his fund-raising. In 2018, he wanted to challenge Sen. Bob Menendez but opted instead to run for Congress in the 2nd District, but lost in the primary where he was pilloried with one opponent questioning loans Singh took out to finance his campaign.

State Senate In the state Senate, Sen. Vin Gopal, who represents the 11th legislative district advanced to the Nov. 2 election, unopposed. The 11th District makes up much of southern Monmouth County, including Colts Neck, Asbury Park, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold, Long Branch, Neptune, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Shrewsbury and Tinton Falls.

Sadaf Jaffer with running mate Roy Freiman for Assembly at the Middlesex County GOTV rally.

Former Edison School Board member Mohin Patel is pitted against incumbent State Sen. Patrick Deign for the Democratic nomination for State Senate in the 18th legislative district, which covers parts of East Brunswick, Edison, Helmetta, Highland Park, Metuchen, South Plainfield and South River. According to The New York Times, Deign is leading Patel by 50 percent. The incumbent has 75 percent of the votes compared to Patel’s 25 percent. Patel, 46, has been a small business owner and has a degree in finance from Rutgers State University. He lives in Edison with his wife Rechal and two sons.

The Democratic winner from this race will face off against Vihal Patel, who advanced from the Republican primary. Patel, who lives in Edison with his wife and two children, is a combat veteran of the U.S. Army who served two 18 month deployments in Iraq. He currently works as a firefighter in Jersey City. 

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Another Republican who advanced from the primary is Agha Khan, a real estate businessman from Jersey City, from District 33, covering Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken, as well as portions of Jersey City. In 2016, Khan sought election to the U.S. House to represent the 8th Congressional District of New Jersey on a Republican ticket. 

State Legislator Raj Mukherji, representing the 33rd Legislative District, who ran uncontested, advanced in the Democratic primary. Currently the Majority Whip of the New Jersey General Assembly, Mukherji was first elected legislature in 2013.

Newcomer Anjali Mehrotra, a Democrat, president of the National Organization for Women of New Jersey, and Municipal Chair of Mountainside Democratic Committee, moved ahead from Legislative District 21. along with her running mate Elizabeth Graner, Municipal Chair of Bernards Township. They will face Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) and New Providence Councilwoman Michele Matsikoudis in November. 

In legislative district 16, Sadaf Jaffer, a two-term former mayor of Montgomery, also advanced in the Democratic primary. Along with her running mate, Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough), she defeated Princeton University lecturer Faris Zwirahn to win the Democratic nod for Assembly. Freiman and Jaffer will go on to face Hunterdon Central Regional Board of Education President Vince Panico and Manville Councilman Joseph Lukac in the general election.

Tenafly Democratic Municipal chair Shaima Haider, who ran on a ticket with Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Ellen Park, also made it to the November election. As per the New Jersey Globe, Johnson defeated Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), becoming the first candidate to oust an incumbent on June 8 night.

In Legislative District 14, Bina Shah, a real estate broker, advanced from the Republican primary. 

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