UNION, NJ — Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, Peter Jacob, is speaking out in the aftermath of the vandalism at his home in Union.
Jacob, who is Indian-American, woke up last week to huge swastikas painted in orange on the sidewalk in front of his family home. Just two days later, more swastikas were found on the back wall of his house.
Jacob, who is running for office in the state’s 7th congressional district, which includes many Union County towns, says that he was shocked and dismayed by the incidents of hate. “I’ve lived here my entire life,” Jacob told LocalSource in a phone call. “This kind of thing doesn’t happen in our wonderful and diverse town.”
Jacob, who works in Union County in the nonprofit sector as a social worker, said he believes the rhetoric coming out of the current presidential election is responsible for the recent increase in hate crimes in neighboring cities and states throughout the country. “What we are seeing here is trickle-down hatred in our community,” Jacob said.
According to Jacob, the Republican nominee for president is a divisive candidate who has been splitting communities apart. “We have a divisive candidate who has spoken negatively about Mexicans and Muslims and so many different groups,” Jacob said. “We hear so much negative language about women. In a time when racial tensions are very high, we need dialogue, not division.”
Jacob believes that whoever is responsible for vandalizing his home must have believed he was Jewish because of his last name. “They saw signs with my surname and assumed I was Jewish,” said Jacob. “This was a symbol of hate.”
Jacob asserts that it is his mission to take on both hateful rhetoric and acts. “We need to dispel this kind of ignorance,” said Jacob. “People will respond to this.”
Jacob held a press conference after the incidents, where he was joined by several representatives of multicultural groups, who all condemned the hate crime.
U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance, Jacob’s Republican opponent, an incumbent running for re-election in the 7th congressional district, issued the following statement in response to the reported vandalism:
“The display of anti-Semitic hate symbols like the swastika is abhorrent,” said Lance in the statement. “I stand with Peter Jacob in condemning these offensive acts of vandalism and support a full police investigation into these crimes. I had requested to attend the Oct. 11 press conference at Peter Jacob’s home and have asked to speak to Peter personally in an effort to show bipartisan unity against racism.”
Lance cited his condemnation, referring to a Jewish advocacy group who praised him for his “swift condemnation.” He said, “the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League recently tweeted, ‘Swift condemnation by @PeterJacob2016 and @RepLanceNJ7 demonstrates that combating hate is non-partisan’ and later added, ‘Thank you @RepLanceNJ7 for strongly and swiftly condemning this incident, standing firmly with those who strive to make NJ #NoPlaceForHate.’”
But in his statement, Lance accuses Jacob of not welcoming him to the press conference because Lance is a Trump supporter. “The Jacob campaign said I would not be invited to the press conference ‘due to my support of Donald Trump,’ and Mr. Jacob himself has not responded to my repeated requests to speak with him,” Lance said in his statement. “I would have said to Peter that I would take out soap and water and brush and cloth to help remove the ugly symbols of hate from the Jacob property. Nevertheless, I reiterate that I find vandalism of any kind reprehensible and continue to stand with Peter Jacob and all decent Americans against racism in any form.”
Jacob denies Lance’s allegations, stating that he never told Lance that he was not welcome at the press conference. “We never said that, and that is not our position,” Jacob said. “It was not a political event and it was not a publicity event,” he said of the press conference. “We had leaders throughout Union County there who have been active in fighting racism in the county.”
Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo told LocalSource that the township is taking the incident seriously, and that he takes pride in Union’s diversity. “As is evident by our previous response to local and national incidents of bias and hate crimes, these are issues we, as a township, take very seriously,” said Figueiredo. “Over the past several months, we have worked tirelessly to promote and strengthen acceptance in our community through various unity events and diversity celebrations. We pride ourselves on our diversity and it has been recognized across the state.”
Figueiredo said that the township will continue to embrace and celebrate its diversity. “While a world free of hate is what we wish and strive for, the fact is that it is a very real problem that every so often rears its head,” said Figueiredo. “The unfortunate circumstances of bias and hate surrounding the vandalism of the home of congressional candidate Peter Jacob are compounded by acts of trespassing and defacing private property. As such, we place our trust in the fine men and women of Union Police Department to investigate and bring whoever is responsible to justice. As the governing body, we will continue to find ways to celebrate diversity and bring the community together, and I hope that the members of our community will follow suit in their homes, schools, and places of business and worship.”
Dan Zieser, Union Police Director, told LocalSource in an email that the incident was an isolated one. “This was an isolated incident and the residents have nothing to fear,” Zieser said.
The investigation remains active, and the UPD urges anyone with information regarding the incident to contact the Union Police Department at 908-851-5000.