Mohammed Z. Islam stepped up to the microphone before a packed gathering of Pakistani American, Bangladeshi American, and Indian American voters Wednesday to make one point clear.
“There is a rumor all over the city that we are joining the Republicans,” said Islam, president of the Bangladesh Association of South Jersey.
That is not true, he said.
Behind him sat a cadre of Atlantic County Democratic politicians, among them Sen. Jim Whelan, who is being challenged by Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina in South Jersey’s fiercest legislative race.
In an election in which every vote is likely to matter, the 120-member Legislature’s lone South Asian lawmaker, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, had trekked to the Kabab Cafe all the way from Somerset County on Whelan’s behalf.
Only the night before, at the same Pakistani restaurant on Atlantic Avenue, Polistina and other county Republicans had reached out to South Asian voters, who have traditionally voted Democratic.
The audience burst into applause when Polistina walked in just past 8:30 p.m. and told the group the election was about reducing taxes and spending, and reinvesting in Atlantic City “so we can give all of you opportunities.”
Afterward, Polistina said he had made appeals to South Asians in 2007 during his first legislative race in the Second District. But this year, he said, he has done more.
“We are reaching out to everybody,” he said.
But a day after the GOP rally, the campaign signs in the windows of the Kabab Cafe had changed from Republican to Democratic, and it was Whelan at the mic.
The former Atlantic City mayor hailed the diversity of Atlantic County’s Democrats, noting the number of black, Hispanic, and Asian members.
“When you had Republicans in here, it looked like a bunch of white guys,” said Whelan, who, like Polistina, is white. “I don’t have anything against white guys, let me be clear. But the fact of the matter is, our diversity in this country is our strength.”
Whelan had sounded a similar theme during a rally with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), son of Cuban immigrants, a few days earlier before a largely black and Hispanic crowd in Pleasantville.