Overcrowding and Political Tug-of-War: Edison’s Mayoral Primary Face-Off

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By ARNAV CHINCHANKAR ‘22

On June 8, Edison voters will cast their ballots for November’s Democratic mayoral candidate. This election, called a primary, allows citizens who are registered Democrats to vote for the candidate they would like to see run against the Republican candidate on November 2. Three candidates seek the nomination: Town Council Vice President Samip “Sam” Joshi, Chairman of the Edison Democratic Organization (EDO) Mahesh Bhagia, and Arthur Esposito. Candidates seek to succeed Mayor Thomas Lankey, who has not filed to run. Keith Hahn, a former police officer, is running unopposed in the Republican primary.

Sam Joshi

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Photo Credit: Sam Joshi

Sam Joshi, Town Council Vice President, aims to be the first South Asian mayor of Edison. 

“I was born and raised in this town and I have been involved in our community since I was fourteen years old. I have served on the Fair Rental Housing Authority Board, the Zoning Board, and I have been Council Vice President for the last two years. I am the only person running that has the experience and vision to move Edison forward,” said Joshi.

Joshi’s platform includes a series of initiatives ranging from municipal broadband to a new high school. Municipal broadband is internet owned by the township, as opposed to private ownership. Currently, most Edison residents use Optimum. Joshi wants to switch to public ownership in order to decrease internet prices.

“If I could only get one thing done in office, it would be to launch municipal broadband so that Edison families have access to faster, cheaper internet. Optimum has for too long had a monopoly on internet service in our town and it is time that our local government addresses that issue for our residents,” he said.

Joshi plans to address the overcrowding crisis in schools: “I believe that overcrowding in our schools is a serious problem that will only get worse. My plan to fix this is to build a brand new, state of the art high school off of Kilmer Road. The building of this school will be funded through three commercial Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs that directly pay the long term school bond.”

Focusing on community development, Joshi’s vision includes a new waterfront on the Raritan River, improved parks, an outdoor women’s history museum, and business redevelopment. Joshi aims to execute his platform while preventing any increase of property taxes.

Joshi has selected a slate of running mates to accompany him in the municipal government. His candidates for Town Council include social worker and former school board member Margot Harris, Edison Environmental Commission member John Poyner, and pharmacy manager Dr. Nishith Patel.

Joshi has the support of many federal, state, and local officials. He has been endorsed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, House Representative Frank Pallone, Metuchen Mayor Jonathan Busch, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Mahesh Bhagia

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Photo Credit: Mahesh Bhagia

Mahesh Bhagia, Chairman of the EDO, also seeks the Democratic nomination. He works as the Chief Operating Officer of a hospitality group and served as Special Assistant to Mayor Thomas Lankey from 2017 to 2020.

Bhagia’s platform encompasses three target issues: taxes, township services, and overcrowding.

“My vision for Edison is a Township that works for the residents and not for special interest. Right now the current incumbents, including Council Vice President Sam Joshi, give sweetheart deals to developers, appoint vendors to positions making millions of dollars without bidding out contracts. As mayor, my first priority is to create a municipal government that is transparent and accessible to all residents,” said Bhagia.

Bhagia, like Joshi, addresses overcrowding in his main platform: “Edison schools are one of our crown jewels. They make us a desirable place to live, keep our property values high, and prepare our future generations. But, they are in trouble because of the current overcrowding crisis. We will create a long-overdue working partnership with the school board to solve school overcrowding.”

Bhagia plans on refinancing the township debt, mandating an annual review of taxpayer-funded vendors, and achieving a zero percent property tax increase. On infrastructure, Bhagia proposes investing in roads, bicycle lanes, and pedestrian walkways. Bhagia and Joshi have both committed to take on Optimum.

Running alongside Bhagia are three Town Council candidates: Tom McCann, Sparshil Patel, and Shannon Peng. McCann is a lifelong Edison resident and union member, Patel works in pharmaceuticals and medicine, and Peng currently serves on the Edison Board of Education.

Bhagia has been endorsed by the NJ Restaurants and Hospitality Association, the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, and Pradip Kothari, founder of the Indo-American Cultural Society.

Arthur Esposito

Political newcomer and resident Arthur Esposito seeks the Democratic nomination in the election. Unlike Joshi and Bhagia, Esposito has little media presence. In an interview with Patch, Esposito condemned racism and declared opposition against a proposed warehouse in Silverlake. Esposito did not respond to a request for comment.

Joshi vs. Bhagia

The June Democratic primary pits two longtime members of the community against each other.

“I moved to Edison over twenty years ago with my wife to start our family. Now, our two daughters go to Edison Public Schools. Best thing about Edison is our community and getting to raise my daughters here,” Bhagia said.

“My favorite thing to do in Edison is serving as Town Council Vice President. I enjoy being able to serve my community and, having grown up here in Edison, I enjoy everything this town has to offer – whether it’s sitting by the lake at Papaianni Park or spending time at the Menlo Park Mall,” said Joshi.

Neither Joshi nor Bhagia committed to endorsing the other for the general election in the event of a primary defeat.

“Our team was excited to win the Democratic nomination in February with a three to one margin. Like everyone we were disappointed and disgusted that County Political Boss and Corporate Lobbyist, Kevin McCabe, stole the line away and gave it to his hand picked candidate, Sam Joshi. We look forward to winning on June 8th and creating a new clean and open government for Edison,” said Bhagia.

Joshi responded with two words: “I’m winning.”

The election takes place on Tuesday, June 8, with polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.