American Sikh Mayor announces Congressional bid from New Jersey
New York: Ravi Bhalla, the first Sikh Mayor of Hoboken City in New Jersey, has announced his candidacy from the US state’s 8th Congressional district.
Bhalla will challenge Representative Rob Menendez Jr, son of Senator Bob Menendez who is facing facing federal corruption charges, in the Democratic primary next year.
If elected, he will be the first turbaned Sikh elected to US Congress.
“I’m running for Congress in New Jersey’s 8th congressional district, because I believe that America is better than the demagogues who seek to divide us, or the politicians who strive only to serve themselves,” Bhalla said announcing his Congressional bid on Tuesday.
Bhalla first set his roots in Hoboken at the age of 26, “a bachelor fresh out of law school starting his first job at a small law firm in Newark, New Jersey”, according to his website profile.
He specialised as a civil rights lawyer, earning national recognition from The New York Times for his legal advocacy after suffering a violation of his own constitutional and civil rights during a jail visit to a client.
The incident motivated Bhalla to lead a successful campaign to reform the federal government’s visitation policies at correctional facilities nationwide.
He served for eight years on the Hoboken City Council before being elected as the city’s 39th Mayor in 2017 out of a field of six candidates.
Bhalla said his parents came from India to “work hard and honestly, with only the promise of opportunity and to practice our Sikh faith in a country where it is self evident that all of us are created equal”.
But that didn’t stop the schoolyard bullies from hurling insults or tugging his hair, he said.
Bhalla has been a constant target of racial hatred in the US with leaflets branding him as terrorist and hate-filled letters threatening to kill him and his family.
“For Congress to rise to the challenge, we need new voices and new leadership — leadership that is focused on making real progress on solving problems and ensuring that all New Jerseyans and Americans — no matter their skin colour, ethnicity, gender, whom they choose to love, or where they started in life — can still realise the American Dream,” the Mayor said in his campaign statement.
In his campaign video, Bhalla said that healthcare, housing, reproductive rights, and climate change would be his top policy priorities in Congress.
“This moment requires change that is momentous. I believe that health care is a human right. Housing is a human right. Reproductive rights are human rights. The climate crisis is not a predetermined catastrophe, but a challenge we can and must meet,” Bhalla said.
Meanwhile, Menendez, while welcoming Bhalla into the race, has accused the latter of breaking campaign finance rules.
“I welcome Ravi into the race, especially since he can validate the work we’ve done on behalf of the residents of Hoboken,” Menendez said in a statement published in New Jersey Globe.
“Ravi has clearly been intent on running, which means he’s been violating @FEC (Federal Election Commission) rules for months. NJ-08 voters deserve clarity about Ravi’s campaign finances and who’s donating to his campaign,” Menendez posted on X, following Bhalla’s announcement.