November 02, 2017
An incendiary political mailer sent to residents of Edison, New Jersey, caused an uproar this week with a blunt message of intolerance for Asian-American and Indian-American members of the community.
The advert, calling for voters to "Make Edison Great Again," arrived in mailboxes on Wednesday. Despite a state law requiring disclosure of who paid for the campaign ad, its origins remain unknown. The mailers were sent using individual postage, not a mailhouse.
On the front of the mailer, two incumbent school board candidates, Jingwei “Jerry” Shi and Falguni Patel, are singled out as targets for deportation.
"The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town!" the mailer proclaims. "Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket field! Enough is Enough!"
The flipside of the mailer claims these groups are overcrowding Edison, a Middlesex County township with approximately 100,000 residents. In recent decades, demographics have shifted toward immigrant families, including large populations of Asian- and Indian-American residents, whose children are first-generation American citizens. Nearly half of the township is of foreign descent.
"It is disgusting and shameful," said Vijayant Pawar, a Morristown-based attorney with many clients in Edison. "Unfortunately certain people feel empowered by the rhetoric at the national level. This is harassment, intimidation and I hope this mailer is investigated as a hate crime."
Democratic Mayor Tom Lankey and Republican challenger Keith Hahn denounced the flyer in statements on Facebook, both vowing to determine who was responsible for it.
"As Mayor, my top priority is to protect the safety of all residents," Lankey said. "Rest assured, I will investigate the source of this racist [flyer] and will react swiftly to any potential threats that result from it being disseminated in my community."
Hahn moved quickly dismiss any association with the mailer, whose language mirrors campaign rhetoric used by President Donald Trump and has been advanced by some among his nativist base.
Sam Khan, an entrepreneur and community activist in Edison, noted the irony of Hahn's efforts distance himself from the politics of the mailer.
"Hahn was chairman of the Edison Democratic Organization until we voted him out in June," Khan said. "He was replaced with Shariq Ahmad, a Muslim-Pakistani-Asian. Now Hahn is running for mayor as a Republican."
Khan, who runs a general contracting company, found out about the mailer when several friends who had received it texted him photos.
"People are stunned and shocked that someone would have the nerve to send this," said Khan, who has also served as chair of Edison's South Asian Community Outreach group since its formation in 2011. The group organizes holiday events that unite thousands of people for Independence Day and other annual festivities.
"We're trying to bring people from all different backgrounds into the mainstream," Khan said, explaining that his outrage comes from his role as a community activist and not from any political motivation.
"These kinds of fliers, this attitude and thinking, undermines our efforts," Khan continued. "And this is not new. We hear what is said in this flyer every single day. This is shameful. I'm a businessman and entrepreneur who came here with $5. I love this country, so no, whoever mailed this, you don't get to say things like this."
The days leading up to the Nov. 7 election have seen a spike in aggressive partisan advertisements in Edison, but none have been as racially charged and offensive as the mystery mailer sent out this week.
"Such actions should not be tolerated by any community," Pawar added. "In my opinion, the mailer will have the exact opposite effect as it will bring people together and unite them against racism and hatred."