Ravi Bhalla earned a spot at the top of a city’s government and in the state record books with a landmark victory on Tuesday.
Bhalla became the first Sikh mayor in New Jersey’s history when he won the election in Hoboken, and his pride in his home state is showing through.
“I was born and raised in New Jersey. I grew up playing little league baseball and watching the Yankees,” Bhalla said.
“I think this victory represents the American dream,” Bhalla said. “My father came here as an immigrant from India with no money in his pocket. He lived in a trailer park, but he had faith in this country and faith in that there is no conflict between religion and succeeding in this country. So I think this election in that way represents that, in America, if you work hard and you’re qualified — the sky is the limit and you can do anything.”
He is one of several mayoral candidates whose victories on Tuesday have have marked firsts in terms of diversity in American politics.
Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia, became the first black mayor in Montana’s state history and Jenny Durkan became Seattle’s first lesbian mayor.
Two other high-profile victories showcased changes in voter preferences in state races in Virginia. Danica Roem, a transgender woman running as a Democrat, defeated Bob Marshall, a conservative incumbent who had previously proposed a transgender-banning bathroom bill in the Virginia legislature. Chris Hurst, a former news anchor who ran on a gun control platform two years after his girlfriend was shot dead on air, won a spot in the Virginia House of Delegates.
“I’m not a political scientist. But I understand that other Democrats won around the county,” Bhalla said.
“To the extent that there has been a national response of democratic candidates winning that might be people speaking out to some of the federal policies coming out of Washington,” he said.
While Bhalla, who has been on Hoboken’s city council since 2009 and served twice as the council’s president, said the last few days have felt “overwhelmingly supportive,” though he did face some ugly opposition during the campaign.
Days before the election, Bhalla told ABC News how he thought that Hoboken voters would reject the “garbage” smear tactics that were used during the campaign. The clearest example came in the form of a leaflet that had a picture of Bhalla with a warning that read “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town!”
“I don’t know who put it out, but it’s very hurtful,” Bhalla, 44, told ABC News before the election. “My skin is thick at this point … however, this has really impacted my family, especially my daughter.”
Bhalla attributed the victory to the support he got from “people who believe in getting government right at the local level,” after winning 33 percent of the vote in a six-way race.
“Oftentimes there is not a partisan way of fixing a street or road so hopefully they voted for who they felt was the most qualified candidate to get the job done in Hoboken,” he said.