NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Clary Azcona-Barber was emotional Tuesday night as she talked about filling her mentor's three-year seat on the Middlsex County Board of Freeholders.
Unofficially, Azcona-Barber received 64,116 votes running on a Democratic organization line with incumbents Charles Kenny (66,194) and Kenneth Armwood (65,921).
Azcona-Barber will be filling the seat left vacant by Blanquita Valenti, who has a long and distinguished career of service to New Brunswick and Middlesex County.
Valenti, 84, is retiring after six terms on the freeholder board. The retired teacher was first elected freeholder in 2004 after serving as a New Brunswick city councilwoman and council president.
Azcona Barber, an advisor in New Brunwick Mayor Jim Cahill's office, remembers how Valenti took her to a meeting in support of former Gov. Jim McGreevey.
"I can tell you that Blanquita Valenti is a mentor to me and a friend," Azcona-Barber said Tuesday night. "She took me to my first political meeting, Latinas for McGreevey, in 2000 or 2001. I look at her as someone that I admire because of her experience and everything that she has done for the community."
Azcona-Barber has spent many years as a Democratic county committeewoman from New Brunswick.
She has served as a legislative aide to Assemblyman Joseph Egan (D-New Brunswick), as an executive assistant to the New Jersey Secretary of State and on the staffs of Governors Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine.
The Democrat victors easily edged Republicans Edna Cox-Rivers (43,956), Thomas J. Coghan (44,893) and Gregg R. Rubenstein (42,695). Brian P. Kulas (3,219) ran under the banner "An Inspired Advocate."
When asked why she will be a successful freeholder, Azcona-Barber said, "I care about the community and I care about families. I care about seniors. I care about veterans and I think I'm going to be a great fit for the community."
In March, the Middlesex County Democrats picked Azcona-Barber to replace Valenti. Azcona-Barber defeated former Perth Amboy councilman Joel Pabon.
Democrate Mildred Scott (69,383) was re-elected as county sheriff, holding off a charge by Republican challenger Anthony D. Gallo (47,353).
In a referendum question, New Brunswick residents voted decisively in favor of the city establishing an Open Space Trust Fund funded through an annual levy of about a cent per $100 assessed valuation of real property to acquire, develop and preserve land for recration and conservation.
According to the referendum, the Open Space Trust Fund is necessary for "protecting the water quality of rivers and streams; preserving open space to protect from floods and protecting the Raritan River; providing safe, clean, and accessible parks, repairing and improving existing parks; creating neighborhood playgrounds and playfields for youth sports; and paying any debts incurred by the city for these purposes."
The referendum easily passed, 1,223 to 395.