Prasad Denies Charging That Catalpa Park Social Media Opposition Is Race-Based

8-11-15 Meeting29

Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) listens to public comments during the Aug. 11 council meeting.

A township councilman on Aug. 11 denied that he told the Human Relations Commission that a social media group’s opposition to Catalpa Park is race-based, and said that as an Indian-American, it is “impossible” for him to inject race into any discussion.

During his statement, Councilman Rajiv Prasad (D-At Large) denied making any of the statements that led the commission to write a letter denouncing the allegedly “racially insensitive language” used by some posters to a Facebook page called “Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township NJ.”

“A lot of the allegations that I was supposed to have made came to me as news,” Prasad said. “It is something that I never said.”

Before he issued his denial, Prasad was excoriated by township residents for about a half hour for the comments, which were originally reported in the Franklin Reporter & Advocate.

Speaking to the commission at its July 27 meeting, Prasad said that postings to the Tranquility Facebook page contained shielded slurs against Asian Indians in its members’ opposition to the park slated for about 25 acres off South Middlebush Road.

Prasad told the commissioners that the slurs are contained in references to “cricket players” supporting the park. Plans call for the park to have two cricket pitches. Cricket players, many of them Asian Indians, have been lobbying the council for years to create more playing spaces for their sport.

As a result of his comments, the commission voted to write a letter – ostensibly to be presented to the Township Council – denouncing the site and the language Prasad told commissioners was used in some posts.

The letter was also to have asserted that the campaign against the park has “racial overtones.”

The letter was never presented in public, but many highly critical comments of Prasad were.

First up to the podium was Gina Ulrich of Middlebush, wife of Brian Ulrich, who created the Tranquility Protection Alliance Facebook page.

“I am highly offended and insulted that you would even insinuate that my husband would ever say or do anything with a racist connotation,” she said. “To say you’re against building a park in the township has nothing to do with racism, it means you want peace and quiet.”

Ulrich said Prasad owed her husband an apology.

Franklin Park resident Shannon Daniel said that she was “ashamed” to have Prasad on the council.

“For you to say that is disgusting and offensive,” she said. “Ewe just want what’s best for our town, and that includes peace and quiet.”

Somerset resident Skip Schaeffer told Prasad that “racist” is a “pretty ugly label to have someone throw on you.”

“It shows a low moral and ethical character coming from that person,” he said.

Schaeffer also had criticism for the Human Relations Commission, which, he said should not have “rolled over” for Prasad without first investigating his claims.

“I don’t want to meet those knuckleheads,” Schaeffer said of the commissioners. “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve lost all credibility with me.”

Brian Ulrich told Prasad that he was “completely out of line.”

“You are out of line, sir, and I think you owe everyone an apology,” Ulrich said.

Mayor Chris Kelly said he also made some comments on the Tranquility Facebook page, supporting the group’s opposition to the park.

“I do take offense at being bulk-labeled a racist,” Kelly said.

“I am personally offended that you feel that way about me,” Kelly said. “I’m also kind of saddened that you feel that way about me.”

“When you pull out the race card, when you say that everybody who doesn’t support the park or your view is racist, I find that offense,” he said.

Later, Prasad said that he was “deeply disappointed in what has transpired.”

“I would be the first to apologize had I done something wrong,” he said.

Prasad said that because he is of East Asian descent, he cannot inject race into an issue.

“How can I bring up race in this case?” he asked. “That is not true.”

“This is an issue that has been blown way out of proportion,” Prasad said. “It is something that is personally injurious to me and I am deeply hurt by it. It’s an allegation, and that’s where it stands.”

No one from the Human Relations Commission read the letter to the council at the meeting, although there were several commissioners in attendance.

Editor’s Note: We stand by our story.



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