The post-election Tweets about my town are positively orgasmic. Hashtag Hoboken. Town elects Sikh mayor. Love triumphs over hate. Rinse. Repeat.
Yes, Hoboken elected Ravi Bhalla as its new mayor. He’s a pleasant person. He’s more than qualified. He was endorsed by our current mayor, who has set our town on a new course. I am aligned with him on some things, wish he was more engaged in others.
But I can’t help but wonder if one person outside of Hoboken who is giddily Tweeting about this win has any clue about his positions on the issues. Do they know where he stands on infrastructure? Residential development? Affordable housing and displacement? Did they ever hear him give a speech?
Further, do they have any idea what positions his opponents hold? Where they disagreed? Where they were aligned?
I’m betting the answer is no.
All the fawning seems proof that there’s one knock on liberals that’s often legitimate – we are way too entrenched in identity politics. I am a big fan of diversity, aware of the marginalized, cognizant of our need to represent everyone in government. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from the past few months of our mayoral race, it’s that parsing by race, gender, religion, political party, or sexual orientation isn’t the answer.
I must deconstruct the now infamous events of a despicable flyer that was dropped in the dark of night last weekend. It had a photo of Councilman Bhalla with the word “terrorist” over it. The image made my skin crawl.
Equally disturbing was the attribution in the upper left corner of the doctored flyer – it named one of Bhalla’s opponents in the race, Michael DeFusco. Someone, likely another candidate, hit two opponents with one shot. One’s a terrorist, the other a racist.
DeFusco immediately reached out to Bhalla to disavow the flyer; it went to voice mail. Bhalla posted the flyer to social media. Soon it was picked up in major media. Conspicuously absent was the fact that DeFusco had reached out. This all happened on a Friday night. The next morning DeFusco reached out again, expressing his desire to release a joint statement against hate. Nada from the Bhalla camp, not privately and not publicly.
Meanwhile, news about the flyer caught fire. Liberals who don’t live here were disparaging “racist” Hoboken. Tsk, tsk, what awful people in that town. The guy who was called a terrorist took it all in while leaving the guy who was called a racist twisting in the wind.
I was vocal about my disappointment on social media. While I didn’t publicly endorse any candidate, I found the lack of humanity surprising. I kept thinking of the 2008 presidential campaign when Republican candidate John McCain corrected a citizen who stood up at a town hall and said she was afraid of Barack Obama because he’s an “Arab.” McCain told her he was a decent, family man who he happened to disagree with on some things. This is the right thing to do, yes? Prioritize human decency. But alas, this is politics. It doesn’t always go down that way. Every man for himself.
Meanwhile, if liberals want to play identity politics, what about DeFusco? Progressive, openly gay man in a committed relationship. He went after his opponents hard and many in town bristled. But he signed his name to those jabs, decided to live and die by them. Ultimately, according to early numbers, he came up short by less than 700 votes. We’ll never know if the flyer made the difference.
I hesitated to write this. I don’t want to dishonor our new mayor-elect. Like I said above, he has a lot going for him.
But honestly, if I see one more Facebook or Twitter post lauding Hoboken for choosing love over hate I’m going to barf. The vast majority of votes for DeFusco or Jen Giattino or Anthony Romano were not votes for hate. Two henchmen carried out a dirty political trick that was hatched from a place of hate. Period.
Get some nuance, people. Learn some facts, bleeding hearts. Stop assuming from appearances. Enough with the labels.
We need to be better.