Ravinder Bhalla’s election as mayor of the New Jersey town of Hoboken was only a small drop in a flood of Democrat victories this election day.
But Bhalla — an Indian-American Sikh man with who wears a turban and sports a prominent beard — overcame extra obstacles to secure his win, including the distribution of fliers that described him as a terrorist.
His victory makes him the first Sikh mayor New Jersey has ever had, reported the Washington Post.
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Ravinder Bhalla started out as a city council member for Hoboken, and when the former mayor Dawn Zimmer, decided not to run for re-election, she endorsed Bhalla as her replacement, NJ.com reported.
He knew his turban and beard would draw attention, but told NBC News he did not want his religion to be the defining point of his identity on the campaign. “When I first ran for office, people asked me, ‘How are you going to get your votes? Are there any Sikh Americans in Hoboken?’ There was my wife and I, and my brother,” he told NBC News.
It all came to a head only a three days before the election, when multiple fliers were reportedly found near the city center showing Bhalla’s face with the sentence “Don’t let terrorism take over our town” printed in red ink over his head. “Of course this is troubling, but we won’t let hate win,” Bhalla wrote on Twitter.
Sikhism is a religion which began in India in the 15th Century and evolved from Hinduism and Islam into a distinct faith, according to the BBC.
The flier was a modified version of a previous mailer sent out by Bhalla’s Democratic opponent Mike DeFusco. The flier pointed out some potential conflicts of interest involving Bhalla’s law firm, according to DeFusco’s website.
DeFusco vehemently denied any knowledge of the fliers and condemned the posts as “racist garbage” in a statement on his website. “Hoboken is far better than this and whoever made this flier 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,” he wrote.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker took to Twitter to defend Bhalla and called the flier vile and hateful.
Hodoken police chief Ken Ferrante tweeted that the fliers were being investigated as a potential “bias crime.”
The fliers did not appear to set Bhalla back, as he flung past his competition on Nov. 7 to secure the seat as the state’s first-ever Sikh mayor.
“Thank you for having faith in me, for having faith in our community, faith in our state, and faith in our country; this is what America is all about,” he told a crowd of supporters at his victory speech, reported NJ.com. “We've been through a bruising campaign... but now is the time we come together and see who we can work with to bring this city forward.”
His victory has also inspired social media users across America.