• Article by Rikki N. Massand / Photos by Barbara A.

State Attorney General Swears in New Jersey's First South Asian-American Woman Mayor


TV Asia staff with Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer and NJ Attorney General Gubir Singh Grewal at the mayor's inauguration.

Marking a historic event for both Montgomery Township and the Garden State, NJ Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal swore in new mayor Sadaf Jaffer on Thursday, Jan 3. His visit and Jaffer’s rapid ascent to mayor grabbed the attention of many, prompting a standing-room only crowd of well over 100 people in the Montgomery Municipal Building, including international news media and central New Jersey politicians.

A common academic link exists between Grewal and Jaffer, both of whom earned bachelor's degrees in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, however they attended college years apart. Grewal graduated in 1995 while Jaffer graduated in 2005. Superseding their Georgetown connection, Jaffer and Grewal have both broken ground recently as South Asian Americans making strides in the U.S. political spectrum. In January 2018, Grewal became the first Sikh-American Attorney General in United States history. Exactly a year later, Jaffer became the first female South Asian mayor in New Jersey history.

In an exclusive interview with The Montgomery News at the January 3 meeting, Grewal detailed his perspective on Mayor Jaffer’s leadership ability as well as overcoming bias against minorities in New Jersey and beyond.

“I do not know Mayor Jaffer personally but when the request came to the AG’s office for me to be here, it was hard for me to say no given the historic nature of what happened tonight. Having been the first Sikh-American and South Asian to hold my position at the statewide, and a country-wide level to an extent, I know how difficult it is to be ‘a first.’ I know Mayor Jaffer’s successes will be magnified as well as her failures, but as she said this represents an opportunity. It becomes an opportunity to encourage others to participate in public service. With that encouragement we can help build tolerance and acceptance — that’s what I take away from tonight and what I hope for her as mayor,” Grewal said.

“My advice for Mayor Jaffer is to perform her duties as well as she can and continue to build bridges. And given my research on her career and background I know she will handle the mayoral role only one way, which is well,” he added.

After Grewal listened to all the committee’s opening remarks, he reflected on Committeeman Kamran Quraishi’s praise for Jaffer, the Montgomery Police Department, his fellow committee members and the community overall. Grewal knew about the bias/Anti-Muslim hate incident Quraishi experienced at his Pike Run home in spring 2018, and through summer his office gathered facts about it from reports that came out. He says there are times when negative moments can lead to opportunities for a positive influence in the bigger picture.

In August 2018, NJ 101.5 FM radio hosts Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco were suspended from the airwaves for 10 days after they referred to Grewal as “the turban man” during a segment. In the aftermath of this incident, Malloy and Franco attended a 75-minute sensitivity training session conducted by advocacy group The Sikh Coalition.

Grewal’s in-person experiences with bias and bigotry heightened days and weeks after 9/11. In 1999 Grewal, earned his J.D. at the College of William & Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law and in September 2001, he was working in commercial litigation at a private law firm in Washington, D.C. In the months that followed, he found himself on the receiving end of nasty looks and derogatory remarks due to his turban and beard, including shouting from a homeless man repeatedly calling him Osama bin Laden and trying to alert others of a terrorist in the nation’s capital. Grewal says he took the time to approach the man, explain Sikhism, who he was and and his upbringing in northern New Jersey. Eventually the two became friends after Grewal treated him to McDonald’s.

“All of us have different motivations when it comes to engaging in public service," Grewal said. "For Montgomery Committeeman Quraishi, it may have been the experience he had. For Sadaf Jaffer, from her comments tonight, it was to encourage others into public service and promote tolerance and acceptance."

Photo Below: Former Mayor Christine Madrid holds the Quran in Dec 2018 as Kamran Quraishi takes the oath of office. Quraishi was appointed to fill Patricia Graham's Republican seat on committee after she had to suddenly resign.

"For myself, although not similar to what Mr. Quraishi experienced but having experienced bias and hate throughout my life, the motivation to go into public service was also to encourage people that you can look different, you can believe differently, and you can come from a different part of the world, yet you can still be part and parcel of the fabric of the United States. That is what Committeeman Quraishi is showing us through his service and what Mayor Jaffer has shown through her service, and that is what I hope to show through my service. If and when a bias incident happens, it doesn’t mean we won’t experience anything like it else day to day. But we can hope to move through that and build tolerance through our service,” the attorney general explained.

Below: A very crowed municipal hall.

Other notable attendees at the January 3 committee reorg meeting included State Assemblyman Roy Frieman; State Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, who swore in new Committeeman Marvin Schuldiner; Rocky Hill Borough’s new Mayor Robert Uhrik; former Montgomery Township mayors Louise Wilson, Don Matthews, and Cecilia Xie Birge; Montgomery Township Deputy Mayor Brad Fay; former Rocky Hill Mayor and 2019 candidate for State Assembly Ed Zimmerman; Montgomery School Board Vice President Minkyo Chenette, Shade Tree Committee Chair Larry Koplik, and news producers and videographers from TV Asia based in Edison, a a reporter from India Times.

View the swearing in video on Facebook.


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