EDISON, NJ - Claribel Azcona-Barber thanked the voters Tuesday for making her the first woman from the Dominican Republic to not only become a member of the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders, but of any county freeholder board in the state.

Azcona-Barber's voice sometimes seemed to well with emotion during the swearing-in ceremony at Middlesex County College, where she once took English as a Second Language courses when she first came to the United States.

Azcona-Barber, a New Brunswick resident who works for the city, was sworn in surrounded by her husband, Tony, and their daughters, Elizabeth and Victoria.

Sign Up for New Brunswick Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill administered the oath.

In her speech, she thanked her family and friends - some of whom traveled from the Dominican Republic to sit inside the MCC Performing Arts Center for the ceremony.

"And most importantly, thank you to the voters of Middlesex County for your confidence in my ability to serve on the Board of Chosen Freeholders," Azcona-Barber said. "You have again asked for representation that cares and is responsive to your needs. I pledge to live up to your expectations. I am humbled by the fact that you have elected the first Dominican woman to the Freeholder Board, not only here but in the entire state of New Jersey."

Azcona-Barber and her running mates, incumbent freeholders Charles Kenny and Kenneth Armwood as well as Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred Scott, easily won election in November.

She is filling the seat left vacant by Blanquita Valenti, who served 11 years as a member of the New Brunswick City Council before spending 15 years as a freeholder. Valenti's term expired on Dec. 31, 2019, and she did not seek re-election.

The night started with a video tribute to Valenti. Gov. Phil Murphy used part of his speech to congratulate Valenti on her service and said he looks forward to her next chapter in life.

Azcona-Barber called Valenti "a friend, a mentor and a true New Jersey Latina pioneer." She looked out to Valenti, who was sitting in the first row, and said, "Blanquita, many of us would never be here today if it wasn't for you. Thank you."

Azcona-Barber recounted her own unlikely path to the Board of Freeholders. She grew up in a small town in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States at 19. She soon graduated from Middlesex County College and began her political career.

"The United States of America is truly the land of opportunity for anyone, from anywhere, to achieve success," she said.

The room erupted with applause when she said that her sister in law became an American citizen on Monday.