"I didn't run as the Sikh candidate but the candidate who happened to be a Sikh. Being in that role and just doing a good job has some implicit or side benefits that I think will educate the American public as more South Asian candidates get out there," Bhalla told PTI here on the dichotomy of the electoral success achieved by him and the growing number of hate crimes against South Asians.
Bhalla, 44, said his obligation as an American is to "protect the rights that we all have under our Constitution. Just by doing that I would hope to try to educate the public about who I am and who the South Asian and the Indian community is."
Bhalla was participating in a panel discussion organised by The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, The India Centre Foundation and The Indian American Impact Project on the topic 'South Asian Americans in Politics: Off of the Sidelines and Into the Game.'
When asked during the discussion if he faced any kind of resistance or racism during his election campaign, Bhalla said he would not describe it as "racism per se" but people would say that his turban and beard would not go "unnoticed. That wasn't a compliment."
People questioned how he will get his votes in Hoboken as he is not "Italian or Irish" and there is not a sizable Sikh population in the city. "But like any good Indian would do, you work hard, you deliver your message."
Bhalla said there was a "whispering campaign" that he is "unelectable" in Hoboken but he remained focussed on doing his work. "I literally knocked on every single door, didn't take a day off from June 20 to November 7. That was a rough summer but that is how you win elections."
Before being elected Mayor, Bhalla served eight years as member of the Hoboken City Council.
He said his predecessor Mayor Dawn Zimmer advised him to focus on his work, "getting out there, running a very professional campaign and doing the best you can and you can win an election."
He said that he was the only candidate who ran on a campaign of resisting US President Donald Trump, who had an 80 per cent disapproval rating in Hoboken.
"I was the only candidate to say that look I am gong to stand up, we suffered from Superstorm Sandy. I know climate change is real even though he (Trump) says it is a hoax. That kind of resonated with people," he said.
Bhalla also stressed that it is not enough for the South Asian community to just donate to election campaigns and show up at political events but not vote in elections. "If South Asians (don't vote), honestly they are not going to be heard and not going to be taken seriously by elected officials."
Bhalla said that since he became the Mayor of Hoboken, "all of a sudden" everybody in his town knows who a Sikh is. He added that it is also noteworthy that the state's chief law enforcement official, the Attorney General is Gurbir Singh Grewal, who also wears a turban and a beard.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)