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The Hoboken Police Department in New Jersey said Sunday it was investigating as a possible bias crime flyers that feature a photo of a Sikh mayoral candidate wearing a turban and the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”
The leaflets, distributed days before Tuesday’s upcoming election, display a picture of Councilman Ravi Bhalla, who is running for mayor, with the caption about terrorism above his head.
The literature goes on to allege “a potential conflict of interest” involving Bhalla and his position on the City Council.
Bhalla called the flyers troubling in a statement provided by his campaign to NBC News.
“I want to use this incident as an opportunity to affirm to each other and our children the value of living in a diverse community where we are judged by the content of our character — not by the color of our skin or how we worship,” he said.
Candidates in the nonpartisan Nov. 7 race are running to replace incumbent Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who is not seeking reelection.
Hoboken Police Department Capt. Charles Campbell told NBC News in an email that the incident was being investigated as possible biased harassment. That’s because it may cause alarm or annoyance as described in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, he said.
“We are in the initial stages of this investigation and we are acquiring evidence and information witnesses,” Campbell said.
The upper lefthand corner of the flyer reads “Paid for by Team DeFusco For Hoboken,” referring to Mike DeFusco, a Hoboken city councilman also running for mayor.
But DeFusco campaign spokesman Philip Swibinski told NBC News Saturday it was not responsible for the flyer, and in a press conference, DeFusco vehemently denounced the flyer, calling it "racist" and "disgusting."
“It’s just sad, it’s awful,” Swibinski said. “For anybody to say that about a person of South Asian descent, like Ravi, is disgusting.”
Swibinski said the DeFusco campaign put out a piece of direct mail around three weeks ago that included everything on the flyer except the message about terrorism.
He said the campaign thinks the mailer was probably scanned and the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!” photoshopped in.
Swibinski provided a copy of the original to NBC News, which had a postage-paid stamp where the sentence aimed at Bhalla appeared.
“This was really just a disgusting act by somebody, we don’t know who,” Swibinski said.
DeFusco’s campaign, which became aware of the flyers on Friday night when someone spotted them, notified the Hoboken Police Department and the Hudson County prosecutor’s office, according to Swibinski.
The literature targeting Bhalla comes just days after news of flyers being sent out elsewhere in New Jersey that were directed at two Asian-American school board candidates with the tagline “Make Edison Great Again.”
The mailer, sent anonymously to residents of Edison Township, featured photos of candidates Falguni Patel and Jerry Shi with “deport” stamps on their faces and the accusation that residents of Chinese and Indian descent are “taking over” the town.