Racist flyers began to circulate on Friday night falsely linking a New Jersey mayoral candidate with terrorism.
Ravi Bhalla, who is running for mayor of Hoboken, posted a photo of the flyer on Facebook. It has a picture of Bhalla, a Sikh who wears the traditional turban, with the words “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!” directly above him.
The flyer also warns of a “potential conflict of interest” regarding the city’s water supplier, which is a client of the law firm where Bhalla is a partner. That issue, however, has no connection with terrorism and the explanation of the conflict appears in much smaller print.
“Of course, this is troubling, but I want to be clear: We won’t let hate win in Hoboken,” Bhalla wrote on Facebook. “I want people to know that Hoboken is a welcoming community where my wife and I are proud to raise our two young children.”
Sikhs have repeatedly been the victims of hate crimes and harassment by people who mistake them for Muslims. A 2015 study conducted by the National Sikhs Campaign found that 20 to 28 percent of Americans misidentify Sikh men as Middle Eastern or Muslim. A large part of that is due to the turbans that Sikh men wear as part of their faith.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tweeted in defense of Bhalla to denounce the flyers. Booker served as mayor of nearby Newark from 2006 to 2013, before running for Congress.
“My friend @RaviBhalla is running for Hoboken mayor,” Booker wrote. “This vile hateful flyer was put out. I condemn it! We all must condemn bigotry & hate!”
This isn’t the first racist incident during New Jersey’s local elections this year. Xenophobic mailers circulated earlier in the week over a school board election in Edison. They featured two Asian-American candidates with the word “deport” stamped on their pictures. The anonymous flyers also claimed, “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town!”
The flyer falsely tying Bhalla to terrorism showed up just days before voters go to the polls on Tuesday. Language on the flyer claims it was paid for by a rival mayoral candidate, Michael DeFusco, who denies any association with the item.
“I condemn this piece of racist garbage in the strongest possible terms,” he said in a statement. “Political stunts like this are everything that’s wrong with politics today.”
In a video posted to his campaign Facebook page, DeFusco rips the flyer in half.
The Hoboken police are investigating the flyer as a possible “bias crime,” Chief Ken Ferrante said on Saturday.