Nearly one month after Sam Davis falsely claimed that “all the Indians" in Chesterfield Township, Burlington County, had voted illegally in November, the former township committeeman apologized Tuesday night at a community unity meeting organized by Shreekant Dhopte, who beat him in November by 117 votes.
“I’m asking for forgiveness, and it’s coming from my heart and nowhere else,” Davis in front of a diverse group of 30 people at the Crosswicks Friends Meeting.
“The way I worded it was not good. ... There is no excuse for my behavior. I did not mean it to come out the way it did.”
On a Facebook page that debated whether immigrants should be tipped, Davis said in a January post that “all the Indians” in the town cost him the election, and that they were not citizens. Davis, 64, a retired Trenton High School science teacher who impersonates Gen. George Washington at events in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said he had filed a complaint of voter fraud with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.
The remarks sparked an outcry in the rural township of 8,000 residents, where housing developments are springing up. It has about 4,000 registered voters, including about 300 Indian Americans, Dhopte said.
After apologizing, Davis shook hands and embraced Dhopte, and his voice cracked when he asked for his forgiveness.
Dhopte nodded, and afterward said it was “time to move on.” He said that “it is the Indian way to forgive and accept an apology” when remorse is shown.
He said in his remarks to the crowd that “not all the Indians in this community are citizens, but all are here legally and do believe in following the law of the land.”
Dhopte also said they have been welcomed by Chesterfield and have assimilated.
Davis said in his Facebook comments that he could not “wait until those people” were slapped with $15,000 fines after the prosecutor investigated. The Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on whether it had investigated the complaint.
Earlier this month, Dhopte, a Democrat and a newcomer to politics, asked Davis, a Republican, to apologize to the community, and also asked the Burlington County Republican Committee to condemn the comments.
“The Quakers who are hosting the meeting didn’t want the meeting to be one-sided, so they reached out to us and to Sam Davis, to give him the chance to come down and explain himself,” Dhopte said before the meeting. “They said there was a right way to address this, and wanted to use it to address the larger issue of racism.”
Dhopte, 45, an IT manager, said Davis’ remarks on Facebook had surprised him because the two had agreed during the campaign last fall to remain civil and stick to issues. Dhopte said that the community is diverse and harmonious, and that the comments were unexpected and gave a wrong impression of the town. He is the first Asian American to sit on the committee.
Burlington County Freeholder Balvir Singh informed Dhopte about the comments when he saw Davis had joined a thread on a Facebook post where a Bordentown cafe owner posted the image of a bill signed by an unknown patron who wrote that he didn’t tip immigrants. Davis joined the conversation and said he had lost the November election to “an Indian guy."
Singh, a Democrat, said racist comments were posted on the Facebook page of the county Republican Committee when he ran for office two years ago. He said Davis’ remarks were hurtful to the community. “It was a hateful act for him to make assumptions like that about people,” he said.
At the Tuesday meeting, Singh said that he was disappointed that Davis was still pursuing his complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office to see if any Indians voted illegally.
“I’m a person of color and a citizen.... When will my children feel no white person looks at me and feels, ‘Is that person a citizen?’ That’s a loaded question, to assume a person of color should have to prove they’re a citizen.”
Lalith Pasupuleti said he is a citizen and has lived in Chesterfield for six years. He said Davis’ Facebook comments were disturbing, but “we all have prejudices,” and it is time to let it go and bring the town together.
“There’s something about Chesterfield — the air, the water — but I have never felt more at peace in a place. ... I feel very blessed to be part of this community,” he said.