Sam Davis, who often portrays Gen. George Washington in reenactments and speeches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, claimed in a recent Facebook post that he lost a local political race in November because “all the Indian people” in Chesterfield Township voted illegally for his opponent, Shreekant Dhopte.
Davis, a Republican, said that he reported the “illegal voting activity” to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and that he could not “wait until those people” were slapped with $15,000 fines. Davis lost his seat on the township committee by 117 votes, according to results on the county election site.
The remarks, posted during the heat of a political argument last week about immigration and tipping on a Facebook page in neighboring Bordentown, were quickly denounced as racist and hateful by Balvir Singh, a Democrat and the deputy director of the Burlington County Freeholder Board.
Singh, the first Indian American to sit on the Freeholder Board, said that when he was elected in 2017, the local GOP campaign literature had mocked his name and Singh also said Facebook ads on the county GOP website had darkened his complexion and questioned whether “anyone had checked my citizen status.”
Singh said he reached out to the Prosecutor’s Office recently to find out if there was a voter fraud investigation because Indian residents were upset after reading news stories about citizens being “rounded up” and accused of being “non-citizens.” He said he was told the case was closed due to a lack of merit.
Davis, 64, a retired Trenton High School science teacher, said he didn’t want to sound racist, but “I have the right to know if they’re citizens.”
Calls and emails placed to the Prosecutor’s Office were not returned.
Singh, a school administrator who immigrated to the United States two decades ago, when he was 14, said Dhopte works in the pharmaceutical industry and is a citizen.
“As an immigrant myself and of Indian decent, I am heavily dismayed by this type of demeaning characterization. ... Chesterfield residents overwhelmingly rejected the fear-mongering tactics of Republicans,” Singh said in a Facebook post late last week. Shreekant Dhopte “earned his seat on the committee, not because of his skin color, but because of the relentless door knocking efforts and meaningful conversations with voters.”
Singh swore in Dhopte to a three-year committee seat last month. Indian Americans are the largest minority in the mostly rural town of 8,000 people near Trenton.
In an interview, Singh said Davis has “sour grapes. ... He lost an election, and he cannot fathom that the overwhelming number of white people in the town rejected him. His only recourse is to think that this must be voter fraud.”
Dhopte could not be reached for comment because he was traveling home after visiting family in India. But he and Chesterfield Committeewoman Andrea Katz released a joint statement on Facebook. They wrote: “We are dismayed by the racist comments and accusations. ... We stand with Freeholder Singh in asking for the Chesterfield and Burlington County Republicans to denounce Sam Davis’s hateful words. Chesterfield’s rich diversity is a strength that we are proud of and we will not allow the words of Sam Davis to divide us.”
Sean Earlen, chairman of the county Republican Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.
Chesterfield Mayor Rita Romeu, a Democrat, said the comments by Davis “are inappropriate and divisive and not in the spirit of Chesterfield Township and what we stand for.”
Davis said in the Facebook post that he had been a committeeman for three years and that an “Indian guy ... beat me by 116 votes."
He said that he “knew for a fact" that the Indians who supported Dhopte are not citizens and that if they are fined, “That’ll teach him a lesson.”
In a telephone interview, Davis said that he was up by 70 votes on Election Night and that he lost when the votes by mail and provisional ballots came in the following day. “I’m just stating that I believe these people are not U.S. citizens. It’s my right, under the Constitution, I have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and I am a student of history,” he said.
Davis has portrayed Washington at events in Valley Forge National Historical Park and Washington Crossing State Park outside of Trenton, and at reenactments of the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton.
“Because I portray Washington, I care about America,” he said. “It’s all about principle now, doing the right thing. ... The Burlington County freeholders were wiped out — they went from Republican to Democrat, and if what I’m saying is true, it affected them too.”
For the first time in more than 40 years, the Democrats took majority control over the five-member Freeholder Board this year. The county has 40 towns between the Delaware River and the New Jersey Shore.
Davis said that undocumented immigrants should be stopped from voting because it is changing the outcome of political races. He said he is hoping that the prosecutor will overturn the election and added that he plans to run again for township committee. Before he served for three years on the town committee, he served on the town’s school board.
When the Inquirer asked Davis how he knew the Indian residents in Chesterfield were not citizens, he said: “I know people who apply for citizenship; it sometimes takes more than five years. … Many of these people have not been here five years. ... You just kind of know; well, you know, well, I’m just assuming you know.”