Prasad Offers Apology For Charges Of Racism, But Calls For Resignation Persist

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Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad reads his statement at the Sept. 8 council meeting.

Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad on Sept. 8 apologized for charging that opponents of a proposed park were motivated by racism, but the main targets of his attack maintained that he should resign his office.

Prasad’s apology, delivered during the September council meeting, was primarily directed to Middlebush residents Brian and Gina Ulrich. Brian Ulrich is the creator of a social media site whose commenters oppose the proposed Catalpa Park at South Middlebush and Vliet roads.

“In short, I was wrong and I’m sorry,” said Prasad, reading from a statement.

To read Prasad’s statement, click here.

Prasad (D-At Large) at the end of July charged that the Ulrichs and commenters on their Facebook page, called the Tranquility Protection Alliance of Franklin Township, were opposed to the proposed park because its plans call for two cricket pitches to be included, and cricket is a favorite pastime of South Asians, who have long lobbied for more playing fields in the township for their sport.

Prasad also pointed to opposition by some commenters on the page to a proposed Hindu temple on South Middlebush Road, next to Snyder’s farm, as further evidence that the page and its commenters were racist.

Prasad made his comments to the Human Relations Commission, which then voted to draft a letter condemning the social media page for its “racially biased” language.

The councilman, who is running for re-election in November, also brought his charges to township Chief of Police Lawrence Roberts, calling the page’s followers a potential “hate speech and crime group,” and asked the chief to request that the FBI interview the Ulrichs before they “resort to violence.”

The Sept. 8 apology, delivered before a standing-room-ony crowd in the council chambers, represents a complete reversal of Prasad’s earlier stance, when he told his colleagues in an email that owed no one an apology. Then, in mid-August, Prasad apologized to the Township Council, saying its members were the only ones to whom he could apologize.

That changed, Prasad said on Sept. 8, after “further reflection” and conversations with his colleagues on the council.

In his apology, Prasad said that he had allowed himself “to be overtaken by my own passions.”

“Now, on further reflection and discussion with my Council colleagues, I realize my comments and actions were not helpful, and were responsible for further inflaming the issue,” Prasad wrote.

In short, I was wrong and I’m sorry – Councilman Rajiv Prasad.

Turning to the Ulrichs, Prasad said he wanted to “personally and sincerely apologize for my comments and actions which in anyway questioned your motivations, including and especially my request for an investigation of you and or the Tranquility Protection Alliance.”

Prasad said he has since learned more of how social media works, and he now understands that “just because someone sets up a Facebook page, does not mean that they necessarily support all of the comments that are made on that page.”

Prasad again apologized to the mayor and council, and the public, because, he said, his “actions and statements have caused unnecessary dissention and made us lose focus, on dealing with the many other issues before us.”

Prasad said he will “redouble my efforts, to serve this community in a respectful, fair, and open-minded fashion, where all citizens are treated with deference and respect,” and called what happened a “temporary lapse in judgment.”

Prasad’s apology preceded about two hours of comment about his comments. The council chambers were about evenly divided between pro- and anti-Prasad speakers.

Prasad’s supporters said that he had admirably represented his constituents, while those opposed to him ripped him for his comments about the Ulrichs and there Facebook page.

Predictably, the most stinging comments came from the Ulrichs.

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Gina Ulrich.

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Brian Ulrich.

“I appreciate your apology,” Gina Ulrich told Prasad. “What I don’t appreciate is that you have people in this room commending you tonight.”

“Before another person gets up and talks about how great this man is, I want you to understand that this man wanted the FBI to investigate us.”

“I don’t think you fully understand the ramifications of your hurtful and disgusting comments against me and my husband,” she said. “When you Google my name now, the fourth thing you see is my name labeled as a racist.”

Ulrich, who said she is a long-time teacher in the Edison school district, said Prasad’s comments “could have an affect on my career.”

Brian Ulrich said he also appreciated Prasad’s apology, but “just because you apologize, doesn’t mean you get to keep your job.”

“You’re trying to stifle free speech through intimidation,” he said.

Prasad did have his supporters.

John Tibbs, a member of the Human Relations Commission, said Prasad was “a good man.”

“The best man on the council is Rajiv Prasad,” said Tibbs. “He just doesn’t know how to protect himself.”

Jeanette Willard of Somerset said that she’s known Prasad for 10 years and “he’s always been a gentleman, always done what’s good for Franklin.”

Willie Goods of Somerset, also a member of the Human Relations Commission, commended Prasad because, he said, “he came out for his community and he did what he felt was right.”

“I don’t feel that we can fire a person for doing his job,” Goods said.

Council Democrats broke their silence on the matter at the council meeting.

“I simply believe he felt threatened for his community and took action that was way out of proportion,” Councilwoman Rozalyn Sherman (D-Ward 2) said of Prasad.

“I urge Councilman Prasad to do anything to mitigate any damage he may have done,” she said.

Councilman James Vassanella (D-Ward 5) said he hoped the township could get past this contrroversy.

“I just hope we can move on,” he said.

Mayor Chris Kelly renewed his call for Prasad to resign from the council.

“I appreciate the apology, I understand what it takes to come out in public and say something  that comes from the heart, but I will stand with my assertion that you should resign because I don’t think you are holding yourself to the standard we should all be at,” he said.

Kelly said that should Prasad remain on council, which, he said, he expected him to do, Kelly would still be able to work with him.

In a written statement, the township Democratic Party said that as citizens of the township, they are “not only disappointed but also take strong exception with Councilman Prasad’s recent comments and actions which intentionally or not, attempted to portray both the Ulrich’s, as well as the supporters of the Tranquility Protection Alliance as anything but concerned citizens fully entitled to express their constitutionally guaranteed rights of Freedom of Speech without concern or fear of intimidation.”

“We are pleased that Councilman Prasad has tonight begun his efforts toward reconciliation with those individuals who he has offended as well as his effort to resume his long held place as an elected official whose actions and words serve to further the interests of al of the people of Franklin Township,” the statement read.

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