Republicans Try Again to Crack All-Democratic Freeholder Board


NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Three Democratic Party incumbents will face Republican Party challengers in races for seats on the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Tuesday.

Incumbent Blanquita Valenti is seeking her fourth three-year term; her fellow freeholders Kenneth Armwood and Charles Kenny are seeking their second terms to the seven-member board.

The three Republican candidates, Joseph Scillieri, Kathleen Calabrese and Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu, are seeking their first terms on the board, hoping to crack a monopoly the Democrats have enjoyed for more years than most can recall.

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Valenti, a 53-year resident of New Brunswick, was first appointed to fill an unexpired term, and has since served on the board for 10 years. She is the founder and chair of the Puerto Rican Board of New Brunswick, a social service agency, and had previously served as a city councilwoman for more than 20 years.

The long-time freeholder said she is running for another term on the board to ensure that county residents receive the best and most effective services possible. If re-elected, Valenti said she would prioritize services to children and veterans and continue to strengthen the county’s Department of Aging.

“It covers quite a bit of our citizens,” she said.

Armwood, 41, a 40-year resident of Piscataway who began his public service as a teen-aged Board of Education member, is a manager at the Edison Job Corps in Edison. Armwood noted many of the Board’s accomplishments during his first term, highlighting Middlesex County’s AAA bond rating from Moody’s Investors Services and initiatives to attract new industry, expand education, and preserve open space.

“I would like the opportunity to continue to build on these accomplishments and provide our residents with the best possible services for the least possible cost,” he said.

If re-elected, Armwood vowed, he would continue working to invest in the county’s college, vocational-technical schools, and job training programs to prepare residents for in-demand occupations. “Education is paramount,” he said.

Arts and culture programs are also crucial to Armwood’s education-centered platform. “We have established the Cultural Arts and Trust Fund to create and improve facilities and expand programming to reach greater audiences,” he said. “In 2017, we will continue to work with our municipalities and non-profit groups to ensure we celebrate Middlesex County’s rich history, cultural diversity, and talented residents; leading to a more well-rounded educational experience.”

Kenny, 53, is a lifelong resident of Woodbridge Township and former councilman, is a captain on the Woodbridge Fire Department. Kenny is seeking another term on the board to continue a long family tradition of public service.

“I had the privilege of serving 16 years on the Woodbridge Township Council,” he said. “I enjoy and find rewarding the opportunity to serve my community. In serving on the freeholder board, I have found new challenges and it allows me the opportunity to continue this work.”

If re-elected, Kenny said he would continue work to reduce county debt and increase investment returns, while improving roads, bridges, schools, public safety and technology. In particular, Kenny called attention to the county’s improved fund balance, following a reduction in debt by approximately $175 million and an improved return on existing investments.

“Through operational restructuring and embracing technology, we have been able to reduce our workforce through attrition, saving approximately $20 million in labor and health care cost,” he said. “These are just a few examples of how the county has maintained our Triple A bond rating saving an estimated $35 million over the past fifteen years in interest costs.”

And, now, the Republican ticket:

Kathleen “Katie” Calabrese, 35, has lived in Old Bridge for one and half years. She is employed as an Assistant Director of Continuing Studies at Mercer County College, and serves as a youth development and adult workforce volunteer.

The Old Bridge resident is seeking her first term in office to improve communication between county government and Middlesex County residents.  “My hope is to provide everyone with the chance to voice their concerns to their legislators at the county level and receive timely and tangible feedback,” she said.

Calabrese emphasizes transparent government in her platform, stressing the importance of clarity regarding tax revenue. “There needs to be more responsibility in government and elected officials need to provide clearer answers as to the decision making,” she said.

Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu, 55, has lived in Middlesex County for more than 20 years. An attorney since 1994, Hu is a member of the New Jersey, New York, District of Columbia and United States Supreme Court bar associations. Hu previously ran for a council seat in Edison in 2011, and in Highland Park in 2013, where he currently resides. Both of those towns have all-Democratic governing bodies, creating a tough climb for the upstart politician.

Hu expressed gratitude for his time spent volunteering to help local senior citizens, students, people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and those who are incarcerated and may need legal assistance.

For Hu, public service is an expression of gratitude for the opportunities afforded to him and his family in his adopted home country.

“I strongly believe that everybody must give back to their community where they can, which is why I want to represent all the residents of Middlesex County,” he said. “I want to be a public servant for those living in our municipalities and help them live their own dreams and [I] am very proud that I may become the county’s first elected Asian freeholder.”

If elected, Hu said his legal expertise would ensure transparency and compliance with the law in all county affairs. “I want to reduce and eliminate waste and unnecessary spending,” he said.

Joseph “Joe” Scillieri, of Jamesburg, has been a resident of Middlesex County for more than 45 years. A United States Navy veteran, Scillieri created and managed construction and architectural projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic as a licensed professional engineer.

He said he has overseen budgets well in excess of $100 million, and has designed and constructed several paper and steel mills and three medical centers in New Jersey. “These facilities, along with countless others, have resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs in the state,” he said.

More recently, Scillieri has served as a consultant at One World Trade Center, offering project analysis support for the anchorage of the structure’s spiral tower.

Scillieri is seeking his first term on the board.

“My running mates and I are running for several reasons, but a major motivator that unites us is the belief that government should not be absolute and that legislators need to concentrate on how best to represent the best interests of their constituents,” he said. “It is very simple; politicians must govern within the parameters of inclusivity, transparency and honesty.”

Scillieri expressed worry at the rising cost of living for Middlesex County families. A focus on retaining new businesses, he said, will improve ratables and lower taxes on county homeowners. Scillieri’s other key issues include capital improvements for infrastructure, traffic congestion, and law enforcement.

 Polls are open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on November 8. TapInto New Brunswick will provide instant election updates and results.

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