Altered flyers may have changed mayoral race in Hoboken

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Hoboken mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco narrowly lost in his bid to become the first openly gay mayor in the city history on Tuesday. Now, the Hoboken police are investigating the alteration of DeFusco’s campaign flyers, which made his opponent, and and the winner, Ravi Bhalla, out to be a terrorist. The matter is being looked into as a possible hate crime because of Bhalla’s race and religion.

The flyers, which began appearing through out the city a week prior to the election, had been altered to include the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town” above a picture of Bhalla, who wears a turban for his Sikh faith. The person who made the alterations also left the message “Paid for by DeFusco for Hoboken” in the upper left corner of the ad.

Hoboken, NJ mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco
Hoboken, NJ mayoral candidate Michael DeFusco

It made it look as if the DeFusco campaign were responsible for it. Originally, the flyer was to raise the issue that Bhalla could have a conflict of interest when considering city contracts with a utility company that is a client of the law firm Bhalla had worked for as an attorney.

“A disgusting, racist flyer was found on car windshields tonight that altered one of my campaign’s mailers and added a racial epithet aimed at Ravi Bhalla,” DeFusco said in a press release. “I condemn this piece of racist garbage in the strongest possible terms. Hoboken is far better than this, and whoever made this flyer is not only insulting one of my opponents in a despicable way, they are also painting me as a racist, which as the only openly gay elected official in Hudson County and a progressive Democrat simply could not be further from the truth.”

DeFusco himself was the one who contacted city police once the altered flyer had been distributed throughout the city. Hoboken’s Police Chief, Kenneth Ferrante, said that the act of altering the flyer to link someone to terrorism with the implied reference to Bhalla’s race and religion could lead to hate crime charges. The altered flyer had been sent out via social media by Senator Cory Booker and Phil Murphy, New Jersey’s new governor, but neither had mentioned that the altered flyer was not created by the DeFusco campaign.

“It was unintentional, and I have nothing but respect for them,” he said of Booker and Murphy. “But they all re-tweeted it and unintentionally spread the errant notion that my campaign was behind it. A lot of people don’t know me in this city, and don’t know about the core progressive Democratic values that I stand up for of inclusion and diversity, have told me they believe me to be a racist. And that is heartbreaking. That is terrifying.”