North Brunswick councilwoman becomes first South Asian freeholder

BY JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK – A township councilwoman is moving up the ranks to a seat on the county board.

Shanti Narra, a North Brunswick native who has served in local government for 10 years, will fill the unexpired term of Freeholder H. James Polos on the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Polos recently assumed the position of executive director of the Middlesex County Improvement Authority.

“I always said, sometime in the future,” Narra said about considering a seat on the county board. “But I didn’t think it was going to be Jim Polos [leaving] and be now.”

A supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society in New York, where she oversees a staff of 25 attorneys and other support staff, Narra was elected to the North Brunswick Township Council in 2009; served as a Democratic committeewoman for District 10 since 2007; served on the planning board for one year; was the council liaison to the library’s Board of Directors, the Council on Affordable Housing and the Open Space Committee; and had been appointed as the parliamentarian for the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.

“It’s an acknowledgement of the township and certainly of the governing body,” she said. “I’m eager to start learning so I can hit the job running, because Jim had a lot of balls in the air.”

She also acknowledged her heritage, as she is the first South Asian of any gender to be appointed to the Middlesex board, and possibly in the state. She was born in Hyderabad, India, and immigrated to the United States at the age of three.

“I’m happy that people can see that someone from my background can move up,” she said. “You can’t ignore who you are or where you come from and you have to seize the opportunity.”

Narra is a graduate of North Brunswick Township High School, Georgetown University – School of Foreign Service and the Georgetown University Law School.

She thought it was interesting that she has spent her entire working career in public interest, and now her “second” career is serving the public as well.

She said she really enjoys being a council representative in her hometown and though she acknowledged she has a lot to learn very quickly, she likened it to her time on the North Brunswick council.

Although she is very honored and excited to join the freeholders, she also said she will miss serving her constituents in her hometown.

“I know the people and I’m so intimately aware of when people have issues,” she said. “There’s a level of familiarity. Everyone is my neighbor. I’ll miss my colleagues and the township staff. … I still care about the town because I still live there.”

Narra was sworn into her new position on Oct. 20. She will serve the remainder of Polos’s term through December of 2017. Next year, she will run for a one-year unexpired term. In 2018 she will be able to run for a full three-year term.

“It is with great pleasure that we congratulate Councilwoman Shanti Narra on her selection to become a Middlesex County freeholder,” North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said. “All of North Brunswick should be proud of Shanti on this remarkable achievement and we wish her the very highest success.”

Her seat on the township council is expected to be filled by a temporary replacement.

Narra was among four candidates who screened before the Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO).

“The MCDO ran a transparent and democratic process, which allowed our county committee members to select Councilwoman Narra from a field of extremely qualified candidates,” said MCDO Chairman Kevin McCabe. “She will make an outstanding member of the Board of Freeholders and Middlesex County residents are fortunate to have someone with her perspective and commitment to public service on the board.”

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.