Heading into the Democratic Primary and with the prospect of an open contest already creating another wrinkle, the two main rivals opened up on each other in a sign of more ugliness to come.
It started when Shannon Peng penned a letter to Edison Councilman Sm Joshi, who’s vying for the nomination with Mahesh Bhagia, chair of the local Democratic Party.
Facebook posts made by an ally of Mayor Tom Lankey.
Peng backs Bhagia to supplant Lankey.
“I write to you as your constituent, as a concerned citizen, and as a Chinese American and Asian
American woman who has made Edison my home,” Peng wrote to Joshi. “I have seen you make thousands of statements since you first ran for office about issues big and small, in public, in the papers, and especially all over your social media. Seeing you post about every little thing made it even more hurtful for me and the thousands of other Chinese American and Asian American residents in Edison as we have come to realize that you have chosen to remain silent when it comes to standing up for us.
“Anti-Asian hate has been on the rise for years in this country, and in this town. I myself was a victim when someone left a dead animal on my family’s doorstep a few years ago. As Council Vice President, you are supposed to lead by example and fight for your values, and you are supposed to provide oversight over Town Hall and the Mayor’s administration. However, you have allowed the Mayor to hire Nilesh Dasondi, who has a history of publicly making racist, anti-Asian statements, in some cases directed specifically at Chinese American residents. You did not speak up then, and much to our dismay you have not spoken up since. To make matters worse, instead of supporting the protests against this injustice, you attacked and undermined those who were brave enough to speak out through your social media.
“This is not leadership,” she added. “Your silence on this matter is especially concerning because of your past actions against the few Chinese-Americans that were public servants in Edison over the last few years. When we both served together on the Edison Library Board, I saw firsthand how you were the architect of a plan designed to systematically remove Chinese-Americans from leadership positions within the library system. With the support of your allies, you watched as Jane Jiang was fired, despite being the first Chinese-American Library Director in NJ and a dedicated employee of the Edison Public Library System. You then masterminded the attempted removal of another Chinese-American leader, David Ye, from the Library Board, when he chose to disagree with your initiative to direct public money into a friend’s bank. And finally, you allowed Henry Xing, another very qualified Chinese-American leader who has a Civil Engineering degree, serving on our Planning Board, to be removed to further your political interests.
“Chinese-Americans and Asian-Americans in Edison and in this country are resilient. We will get
through this difficult time, and we will continue to pursue the American Dream and contribute to
strengthen the fabric of this great country. But, we also will not forget the immortal words of the
civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our
enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Joshi hit back in an emailed statement.
“It’s laughable that someone who is running on a ticket with Mahesh Bhagia, one of the architects of the racist, anti-Asian ‘Make Edison Great Again’ flier, is lecturing anyone on racial issues,” said Joshi. “Even more disturbingly, Shannon Peng was silent when her campaign treasurer Mohin Patel’s blatantly racist posts on social media were exposed, and to this day he is still working for her campaign. As a young Indian American leader, I have never hesitated to call out racism against our AAPI community or anyone else. I have absolutely no involvement in the hiring of the Mayor’s assistant, moreover, Planning Board members are appointed by the Mayor with no Council oversight and I don’t even have a vote on the Library Board. As Mayor I will work tirelessly to not just root out racism in Town Hall, but to finally give our diverse communities the respect and services they deserve, including making our workforce and police department more reflective of our population. Someone with Mahesh Bhagia’s shameful record of using racism for his political gain will never accomplish those goals.”
InsiderNJ reached out to Bhagia for a rejoinder and he supplied the following:
“Councilman Joshi’s response is disgusting,” said the mayoral contender. “We again see him do nothing but blame others for problems. Nilesh must be fired and we need our elected officials to take action now! Where is Sam and why is he silent yet again on this important issue? Where was his voice when these systemic injustices occurred? Where is his voice now? We need leadership in Edison and stop the practice of kicking the can down the road while allowing a toxic culture to fester in town hall.
“Sam Joshi’s mantra seems to be its someone else’s fault. Maybe instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on the Committee of the Whole to target his political enemies, he should go under oath and testify under that very same committee about the racist flyer that he directly benefited from.”
Lankey hasn’t yet decided if he will pursue an independent candidacy for reelection, while Keith Hahn, a former Democratic Party chair now running for mayor as a Republican, hopes the severity of sulfuric fracturing among his former mates convinces besieged voters to beg for a new direction.