Battle for the post of Middlesex County Commissioner heats up in New Jersey!

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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India observer, TIO, NJ: For decades immigrant families from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives all grouped as South Asian Americans in the United States Census, focusing on making themselves a home in the US. As their numbers grew, so did their ambitions and soon they started representing themselves in public offices, from school boards to be a Presidential nominee as well.

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June is the month when those wanting to hold public office participate in primaries, winning which is crucial to be nominated as the official candidate for either Democrats or Republicans in November. One such crucial election is for the post of County Commissioner in New Jersey, one of the only two states in the US, including Ohio to have the post of County Commissioner. The other big states like Texas And Missouri have Commissioner’s Court

File Photo: Atif Nazir visiting Carteret Gurudwara in New Jersey.

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Middlesex, one of the 21 counties in New Jersey,  too will be electing a total of seven members who constitute their Board of Commissioners. Once elected, the seven board members appoint a director and deputy director amongst themselves. One of the seven seats is that of  Middlesex County, where citizens have to decide whether they are happy with the present County Commissioner or will be willing to give Dr. Atif Nazir, who is a known community leader and a public health professional, represent the South Asian American community, a chance.

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Dr. Nazir, backed by numbers, is giving tough competition to the incumbent.  McCullum, who was sworn in as commissioner last year. She got the post when deputy director Kenneth Armwood, passed away unexpectedly, making her only the second black woman to be appointed to the board of commissioners. The first was her own mother, Mildred Scott, who left the board to serve as Middlesex County Sheriff and was replaced by Armwood. McCullum resigned her Piscataway Council seat which she had occupied since 2013 to take the county commissioner’s post.

Atif Nazir with Assemblyman Jamal Holly and Sam Khan

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File photo, On labor Walk with the Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, NJ

Middlesex with a population of almost 300,000 is also the third most populous county in the state and among the 20 most populous counties in the country, South Asian Americans constitute almost 20% of the population here. Dr. Nazir is banking on his success as an elected school board member twice, his experience as a two-decade-old career as a public health professional, his understanding of the county, of which he has been a resident for over two decades, and the support of the almost 40% South Asian Americans to see him through as the official Democratic candidate for the November elections.

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Atif Nazir National advocacy Day

Dr. Nazir believes that “as a South Asian American, we must actively participate in the political process as no one can represent us better than ourselves”. Shanti Narra from North Brunswick is the only other South Asian American on the present seven-member board in Middlesex.

The Board of County Commissioners, representing the 21 counties of New Jersey, serves as a middle level of government between the state and federal governments and the municipalities. The counties deal with regional problems such as solid waste disposal and water supply, as well as have the historic responsibility with the courts, roads, general government, and the conduct of elections.

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File Photo: L to R Shariq Ahmed, Former Mayor of Edison, Tom Lankey Atif Nazir, Robert Karabinchak

Interestingly, till July 2020, this Board of County Commissioners was called the Board of Freeholders since it was formed in 1798, where only those holding lands, free of encumbrances, could hold the post, giving an unfair advantage to white men, over women and other racially significant minorities. This to many was a remanence of slavery and racism that existed in the US for almost four centuries. This Board of Freeholders was finally changed by the New Jersey governor Phil Murphy in July 2020, to the Board of County Commissioners, with significant changes as to who could run for the post.

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Atif Nazir Celebrating Diwali festival at Piscataway High School, NJ with south Asian community leaders Ms. Seth Suhas and others. 

Dr. Nazir’s significant achievements as a Piscataway School Board member since 2013 include getting the approval for both Diwali and Eid as official holidays in the school calendar. He managed to get both holidays approved at the same time, the only town in the entire USA. To approve at the same time more cities approve Dewali or Eid as official holidays at different times. Atif promoted diversity to accommodate the multicultural crowd in the Piscataway schools.

Like every candidate representing the South Asian community, Dr. Nazir’s candidature is threatened by the political divide in India and Pakistan, which has caused a divide in the US as well. Dr. Nazir however makes a passionate plea to the community stating that since they live and work here, the politics back home shouldn’t affect them. And most Indian Americans and Pakistani Americans see the merit in his plea.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar is the regional Bureau Chief of the USA based News Portal, "www.TheIndiaObserver.Com". She has been a fearless journalist for over two decades and has worked in several publications in Mumbai, India. She has worked for The Pioneer, The Daily, Afternoon Despatch, and Courier, Free Press Group, Life Positive, freelanced for The Federal, The Week, Midday, Deccan Herald, Herald-Citizen (USA), South Asian Times (USA). She is a broadcaster, commentator, interviewer besides being an investigative journalist. She has covered several beats, including politics, civic affairs, law, public health, crime, sports, environment. She has also been an assistant producer for a documentary film commissioned by PBS, on Methamphetamine addiction in Tennessee, called Crank: Darkness on the edge of town. She has also been a guest faculty teaching journalism at the School of Broadcasting, Mumbai.

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