On November 7th, my brother, Michael DeFusco, lost a very close mayoral election in Hoboken, NJ by a few hundred votes. Maybe you’ve read about it or seen it on the news, or on your social feeds. It’s the election where someone distributed racist fliers implying one of the other candidates was a terrorist. The story became national and international news, but the story that no one is telling is how an election was tampered with and my brother’s name was intentionally and maliciously smeared.
We woke up the Saturday before the election to -- what they call in politics -- an October Surprise. It’s when someone hits the news with a story the other side doesn’t have time to respond to. We saw this tactic in the 2016 Presidential election. In our town, we woke up to thousands of fliers all over Hoboken that were illegally altered and photoshopped in order to paint Michael as a racist.
The bogus flier was intentionally designed so that when you took a picture of it, every shot would show “Paid for by Michael DeFusco” next to a picture of mayoral candidate and Michael’s primary opponent, Ravi Bhalla, with this new text implying he was a terrorist. It was a diabolical and ultimately effective tactic as thousands of these fliers were distributed in the dark of night to homes and cars all over Hoboken.
Hundreds of people began sharing the picture on social media including NJ Senator Cory Booker and NJ Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who both tweeted a picture of the inflammatory, fake flier clearly showing Michael’s name as the alleged source. And in their distribution of it to millions of people they created and propagated Fake News, making it an international news story. They – or their offices – never called or even went on social media to check the facts. Had they been responsible, they would have seen a police investigation was opened up and my brother was doing his best to hunt down the criminals responsible for the Fake Flier. But, now people everywhere think he is a racist.
Michael's Press Announcement Denouncing the Flier
The news cycle smelled its blood and wanted “racism” as its meal, not the real story of election tampering.
The facts are that Michael DeFusco is a young, progressive Democrat and the only openly gay elected official in Hudson County, NJ. He won his first race two years ago when he unseated a 20-year incumbent for a seat on the city council. He did this by galvanizing the young base, who was previously apathetic to politics. It was exciting. When the mayoral election was on the horizon he was the first and only challenger to announce he was running against the two-term incumbent.
Michael took an unpaid leave of absence from his job so he could focus full time on talking to people and running his grassroots campaign. He put his heart and soul into the race and was one of the candidates who most observers thought had a chance to win. In fact, a Super PAC supporting Ravi Bhalla spent over $50,000 attacking Michael in the last two weeks of the campaign, before the Fake Flier even came out.
Mike's Facebook Page
The police have surveillance footage of two men passing out the altered flyers in the middle of the night, but in the almost week since crime, no one has come forward to identify them.
Police Release Suspect Images
Fake news works by playing on an emotional response. Seeing racism hits every decent person where it hurts. It makes sense people were upset and shared the story. The Fake Flier reached millions. But no news agency anywhere reported on the election tampering. They just told the story of a bigoted flier and showed the picture with Michael’s name on it. The fliers were made to damage Michael’s campaign and sway the election. And it worked. He lost the election by a few hundred votes.
The morning of the election I had to explain to my 2 year old why people were screaming “racist” at her mother for wearing a Team DeFusco T-shirt. Michael was bullied and threatened and our mother was shouted down last weekend while we were out with my 4 month old and wearing a Team DeFusco button. This fake news and the irresponsibility of our media is changing what life is like for us in the town where my brother and I have lived for thirteen years. It’s unbelievable. I’m surprised that I’m surprised by how real fake news can feel.
It’s a shameful game being played today. One thing Donald Trump does have right is that the news is a culprit in this mess. But it’s social media that is the most irresponsible medium. A medium where a U.S. Senator can repeat something that they don’t know for sure and reach millions of followers - and the news media - who all take it as a one-sided truth. It’s not a medium for democracy but of propaganda.
Let’s use social media for good:
We are raising money to help clear Michael’s name and bring the criminals responsible to justice. We are offering a reward for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons behind this attack on both Michael and Ravi’s good names. We all deserve to know the truth about who was behind the fliers – our democracy depends on it.
- Marguerite Sweeney
- Joe Mindak
- Thomas Kobylarz
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