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In Your Opinion: For The Sake Of Franklin, Prasad Must Go

By Raleigh Steinhauer, Somerset.

Mayor Chris Kelly is correct in calling for Councilman Rajiv Prasad’s immediate resignation. Prasad has proven himself not only unfit to serve as a representative of the public, but a danger to the very public he was elected to serve. The Mayor is also right in his assertion that the issue goes further than Prasad.

It is evident from the emails that have come out and meeting minutes of the Human Relations Commission that many with political power in the Township, including current council members, knew what Prasad was doing and refused stop it.
In a July 29th email to his fellow Democratic council members Prasad accused the Facebook group known as the Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township of being racist against Asian Indians. In the email, Prasad even associated Tranquility with heinous violence against Hindu Temples across the country and suggested that Tranquility was on the verge of perpetrating similar acts in Franklin. Prasad went on in subsequent emails to label Tranquility “neo-Nazi racists” and a “hate and crime group,” and in an email to the Chief of Police requested that the FBI be called in to investigate the Facebook group and its founders.

Far from simply having knowledge of Prasad’s abhorrent allegations against Tranquility, council members and others holding political power attempted to cover them up by whitewashing the minutes of the July 27th Human Relations Commission meeting in which Prasad compelled the Commission to pass a resolution denouncing Tranquility as racists. It is evident that the minutes were manipulated, and are not a faithful representation of what occurred at that meeting. It is also clear that individuals with political power prevented the resolution from being released to the public. The reason is open to speculation.

Though the minutes recite that due to “subsequent events” it was decided that the resolution passed by the Commission would not be presented at the next council meeting, as originally intended, because it would be to “everyone’s advantage to just let this matter drop now as we do not want to give anyone an opportunity to further continue discussion.” According to the minutes, the “subsequent events” apparently involve a back room discussion between the Commission, Deputy Mayor Kimberly Francois, the Township Manager Robert Vornlocker, and “our New Jersey Assemblyman.”

Prasad’s allegations against Tranquility were again covered up at the August 11th council meeting when members sat idly by and allowed Prasad to lie to the public, fully aware that he was doing so. Indeed, in the July 29th email to his fellow Democratic council members Prasad discussed the upcoming August 11th council meeting and the anticipation that he would face the ire of residents due to his allegations of racism reported upon by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate. As predicted, Prasad was excoriated by residents at the August 11th council meeting. Though instead of addressing the allegations, in an act of supreme cowardice, Prasad categorically denied ever making them in the first place. To the point of even claiming that because he was of East Asian descent that it was “impossible” for him to inject race into any discussion, and that someone must be speaking for him. Ironically, in the July 29th email to his fellow Democratic council members Prasad injected race into the discussion by once again accusing Tranquility of racism against Asian Indians.

Even assuming that Prasad’s fellow Democratic council members do not themselves harbor any actual malice towards Tranquility, their silent acquiescence to Prasad, at the very least, hardly constitutes as a profile in political courage. Nevertheless, in my opinion, this is not a partisan political issue, but one transcending party lines.

A mere cursory glance at Tranquility’s Facebook page shows that the group is composed of residents spanning the political spectrum, along with residents of all different races, ethnicities, and religions. The group, which as of this writing has over 1,200 followers, even includes many Asian Indians. The very people Prasad claims Tranquility is racist against. Generally speaking, hate groups do not contain individuals which they purport to hate.

Based upon any objective analysis Tranquility is not a “hate” or “crime” group as alleged by Prasad. A fact others, including the Chief of Police, have also made clear. Tranquility is simply a group of residents who oppose overdevelopment in the Township and want to preserve open space. Their activism and involvement in their community is admirable and should be applauded. For an elected official to unjustifiably demonize these residents as racists in order to silence their opposition to a pet project, and pursue federal law enforcement action against them in a malicious effort to destroy their lives merely for exercising their constitutional rights, is profoundly dangerous and supremely un-American. Such actions should be roundly condemned by both parties.

Despite this fact, not a single council member has called for Prasad’s resignation. Not a single council member has condemned Prasad’s actions. And those running on the same ticket with Prasad in the upcoming election appear content to have their names aligned with his. This begs the question of why.

It has come to light that there have been several large recent political donations to Franklin Democrats from CME Associates, the engineering firm designing the multi-million dollar park. The Catalpa park project was pushed through overwhelming opposition and proved so unpopular with Franklin residents that Prasad recruited residents from Edison Township to vocalize support for the project at the council meeting in which it was approved. I sincerely hope that CME’s donations, or any other for that matter, are not a motivating factor in the refusal of Democratic council members to call for Prasad’s resignation or condemn his actions. Though, by continuing to protect Prasad, their motivations are open to suspicion.

Perhaps Prasad’s running mates and political handlers have simply made a cold political calculation that based upon the number of Democrats in town that Prasad can ultimately survive and win re-election in the Fall. If so, then it is unfortunate. There is right and wrong, and politics should not trump all. At the end of the day what is right for Franklin should be the guiding light, not political affiliation.

To that end, as a Republican running against Prasad for Council in the Fall it would undoubtedly be more advantageous for me to face a wounded Prasad who limps along to Election Day than it would for Prasad to resign now and allow another Democrat to take his place on the ballot. This is especially true in that by the numbers Franklin is a largely Democratic town and any decent Democrat, of which there are many, would stand a good chance of winning based upon the sheer numbers alone. But I, along with Mayor Kelly, am calling for Prasad’s immediate resignation, because Franklin comes first. And I would rather lose the election than risk having Prasad continue to represent the town that I love.

Therefore, I sincerely urge the rest of the council and others with political positions in the Township to follow the Mayor in calling for Prasad’s immediate resignation. Not for the sake of politics. But for the sake of Franklin.

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