MOUNT HOLLY -- A Democratic challenger will become the first Sikh to hold a countywide seat in the state after upsetting Republican incumbents in Tuesday's election.
Balvir Singh, a 32-year-old math teacher at Burlington City High School and school board member in Burlington Township, ran as the first Burlington County-wide Asian candidate Tuesday. Despite having little campaign money and the Democratic disadvantage in a predominately red region, Singh garnered 57,801 votes, narrowly defeating current Republican freeholders Bruce Garganio and Linda Hughes, who received around 55,400 votes each, according to unofficial results.
His running mate, Tom Pullion, pulled in the most votes, winning more than 61,000. He, along with Singh, will move to take the two open slots on the five-member, all-Republican board.
Singh credits a good ground game -- and poor public reception of the race-based ads against him -- for the win.
"We didn't have a dollar to run our name on the screen," he said in an interview Thursday morning. "But we did have a very good group of committed volunteers."
Singh and Pullion's victories also mark the first time Democrats have won county seats in Burlington in a non-presidential year, as the county has traditionally leaned heavily toward the Republican side, he said.
The win shows voters are tired of slanderous tactics used by President Donald Trump and other high-profile politicians over the past year, Singh said. Various ads called him "very tax-Singh," while others darkened his skin and questioned his status as a citizen.
"They were very unfair," Singh said. "They did stoop really low. I wish they had stayed onto the message and the issues as they were supposed to. They got down to fear-mongering."
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Some ads claimed Singh would harbor criminal immigrants in Burlington County or force sanctuary city policies on the towns -- all of which falls out of his jurisdiction as freeholder, he said.
"We had people calling me all sorts of things," he said, noting that his family had not turned on cable TV since the ads began in September. "It was disheartening, to say the least."
Singh isn't the only Sikh to score an upset victory. Hoboken Mayor-elect Ravi Bhalla fought against discrimination to become the state's first Sikh mayor Tuesday.
Garganio thanked the community for its support over his seven-year tenure as freeholder in a Facebook post Wednesday morning, wishing good luck to Singh and Pullion as they prepare to enter their new roles.
"With your support we have done some amazing things. The results of last nights election were not what we were looking for but the people have spoken," he said. "Elections are hard fought but when they are completed Republicans and Democrats need to work together for the people. I am sure that will be the case in Burlington County this year."
Hughes joined the board last December, replacing Mary Ann O'Brien as she moved to county surrogate. Her appointment was approved by the Burlington County Republican Committee. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Singh, who is married with two young children, teaches math at the high school, and also works as a lecturer at Rowan College at Burlington County.
He's looking forward to taking on the office as he leaves his school board position at the end of the year, and hopes Republicans and Democrats can put the campaign behind them to work together to improve the county's declining infrastructure and combat a rise of violent crime.
"This is hard to forgive when they go against you personally," he said. "But at the end of the day, we are here to provide services and provide support for the residents in our county. We will extend our hands to our Republican counterparts and hope they will be willing to work with us."
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