In large white letters against a navy background, the slogan on the campaign mailers made clear their objective: “MAKE EDISON GREAT AGAIN.”
Both Shi and Patel are of Asian descent. And both, on the fliers, have the word “DEPORT” stamped beneath their pictures.
The postcards targeting the school board candidates have been arriving in the mailboxes of Edison residents this week, just days before the town’s elections on Tuesday. They have provoked outrage for their blatant racism — and also sparked questions about how and where they originated.
Patel, a Democratic committeewoman who is running for a public office for the first time, told N.J. 1015 Radio that some residents may not have embraced her as she was campaigning, but that she was shocked by the postcards’ outright racism.
“I’m obviously disgusted by it, to say the least,” Patel told the radio station. “I was born and raised in New Jersey. To see the word ‘deport’ on my picture — where are you going to deport me to? Really, it’s just outrageous.”
Edison Township is the fifth largest municipal area in New Jersey and one of its most diverse. Of the town’s nearly 100,000 residents, more than 43 percent are Asian, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey said Thursday he had notified law enforcement of the matter and vowed to expose whoever was behind the mailers, which he called “vile” and “racist.”
“Our community proudly embraces our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity,” Lankey, a Democrat, said in an email statement. “This despicable mailer, from an unidentified source, contains the Trump-Republican sentiments that Edison’s Republican mayoral challenger and some of his supporters have chosen to embrace. This mailer appears to be an act of desperation meant to misdirect and confuse voters.”
Keith Hahn, a Republican who is running against Lankey for mayor, also denounced the fliers.
“It’s shameful and disgraceful,” Hahn told The Washington Post. “This flier is nothing more than a political stunt to incite racial tension.”
The message on the postcards is unambiguous.
“Stop Jerry Shi & Falguni Patel From taking over our School Board,” the mailers state on the front. “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town! Chinese school! Indian school! Cricket fields! Enough is Enough!!”
Shi and Patel issued a joint statement late Thursday afternoon, saying the people who sent the fliers should be held accountable, but that they wanted to continue focusing on their campaigns.
“We decided to run for the Edison Board of Education so we can improve educational opportunities for all the students of Edison, this is the only reason we got involved,” the statement said. “Edison is a wonderful community full of amazing people of all backgrounds, this is our strength. So, we will not be distracted by these unfortunate attacks. They are un-American and not the Edison we know.”
Shi is one of two incumbents running for one of nine seats on the school board for Edison Township Public Schools, while Patel is one of seven challengers. It is unclear why the two were targeted in the fliers, as the field of candidates includes other minorities as well.
At least one lawmaker and national organization outside of New Jersey weighed in on the matter Thursday. Edison is a hub for the area’s large Indian-American community, said Sonny Chatrath, a resident of Freehold Township, N.J., about 25 miles away.
“Edison is like where pretty much everybody goes for [Indian] grocery shopping,” Chatrath said. “If there’s an event and you don’t have Indian clothes, you would rush to Edison because there are so many Indian stores there.”
Chatrath said a friend living in Edison posted a picture of the postcard their family had received in the mail Wednesday. Shortly after, several others followed suit. Shocked, Chatrath tweeted the image out, tagging as many politicians and news outlets as he could.
“They were pretty much all spooked out,” Chatrath said, of those who had received the postcards. He said he was distributing the image to the news media even though he doesn’t live in Edison because many who received the postcard did not want to draw attention to themselves. “The political climate is so volatile right now . . . I just hope that who is perpetrating all this is apprehended soon because this should not go out of hand.”