Republicans challenge Democrat incumbents for freeholder seats

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By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

Six candidates are vying for the three, three-year terms that are available on the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders in the upcoming election.

The Democrat incumbents — Blanquita Valenti, Kenneth Armwood and Charles Kenny — will face Republican challengers Joseph Scillieri, Kathleen “Katie” Calabrese and Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu in the race.

Democrat incumbent Kenneth Armwood, who is seeking his second term on the board, is a 40-year resident of Piscataway.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Rutgers University. He is a manager at the Edison Job Corps.

Armwood said the board’s accomplishments include maintaining the county’s Triple A bond rating, attracting new industry leaders, expanding excellent educational opportunities and preserving more 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.

Armwood said education is always paramount.

“We will continue to invest in our county college, our vocational-technical schools and our job-training programs to ensure our residents are prepared for today’s in-demand occupations,” he said. “My fellow freeholders and I see arts and culture programs as a means to educate. We have established the Cultural Arts and Trust Fund to create and improve facilities and expand programming to reach greater audiences.”

In 2017, Armwood said the board will continue to work with municipalities and nonprofit groups to ensure they celebrate Middlesex County’s rich history, cultural diversity and talented residents leading to a more well-rounded educational experience.

Republican Kathleen “Katie” Calabrese, who is seeking her first term on the board, has lived in Old Bridge for almost two years.

She earned a Master of Arts degree in adult education and training. She attended Stockton College, Ocean County Community College and the University of Phoenix.

She is an assistant director of continuing studies at Mercer County Community College.

Calabrese said she is a youth program volunteer and she volunteers to help adults in the area of workforce development.

“I am running for office to improve communication between county government and the residents of Middlesex County,” she said. “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.”

Calabrese said, if elected, her focus would be on improving communication and promoting transparent government so residents have a clear understanding of where their tax dollars go, the rationale behind the allocation and how that money is serving them.

“There needs to be more responsibility in government, and elected officials need to provide clearer answers as to the decision making,” she said.

Republican Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu, who is seeking his first term on the board, has lived in Middlesex County for more than 20 years. He currently resides in Highland Park where he has lived since 2012, but previously lived in Edison. Hu previously ran for a seat on the Edison Township Council in 2011 and the Highland Park Borough Council in 2013.

He earned a degree in English from Wuhan University in China, studied law at Saarland University in Germany, earned his law degree from Vanderbilt University and graduated from a law program at Harvard Law School.

Hu has been a lawyer since 1994 and is part of New Jersey, New York, District of Columbia and United States Supreme Court Bar associations.

He said he is very fortunate to spend time volunteering by helping local senior citizens, students, people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and those who are incarcerated who may need legal assistance.

“I have been blessed with the opportunity to move to the United States, raise my family here and establish a successful law practice,” he said. “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.”

Hu said he wants to be a public servant for those living in the municipalities and help them live their own dreams.

“I am very proud that I may become the county’s first elected Asian freeholder,” he said.

Hu said, if elected, he would utilize his legal expertise to ensure that all contracts signed by and for the county are done in a transparent nature, in compliance with the law and executed solely for the benefit of the county and its residents.

“I want to reduce and eliminate waste and unnecessary spending,” he said.

Democrat incumbent Charles Kenny, who is seeking his second term on the board, is a lifelong resident of Woodbridge Township.

He earned an Associate of Applied Science degree from Middlesex County College. He is a captain on the Woodbridge Fire Department.

Kenny said he had the privilege of serving 16 years on the Woodbridge Town Council before becoming a freeholder.

“I enjoy and find rewarding the opportunity to serve my community,” he said. “The ability to give back to your community or work to make it a better place has been in my family since I was young. In serving on the freeholder board, I have found new challenges and it allows me the opportunity to continue this work.”

Kenny said he currently serves on the Finance Committee.

“In the past three years, we have raised our fund balance, reduced our debt by approximately $175 million and increased our return on investments,” he said. “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.”

Kenny said these are just a few examples of how the county has maintained its Triple A bond rating, saving an estimated $35 million over the past 15 years in interest costs.

“If re-elected, I will continue to work on reducing county debt [and] increasing investment returns while still improving roads, bridges, schools, public safety and technology,” he said.

Republican Joseph “Joe” Scillieri, who is seeking his first term on the board, has lived in Middlesex County for more than 45 years.

He currently is a resident of Jamesburg.

Following his service in the U.S. Navy, Scillieri created and managed construction and architectural projects throughout the region as a licensed professional engineer. More recently, he served as a consultant at One World Trade Center, offering project analysis support for the anchorage of the massive structure’s spiral tower.

He volunteers his time within the community teaching children about dog handling and nature through a program created by the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife.

“My runningmates 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 said the cost of living is getting out of control for families throughout the county.

“The tax rate is nearly double the national average, and Middlesex County continues to steadily outpace the national average in areas like cost of housing,” he said. “As a proven business owner/leader, I will implement my successful strategies to attract and keep new businesses here, which will have a positive impact on ratables and lessen the tax burden for the homeowner.”

Scillieri said for too long, those who live, work and travel through Middlesex County have had to endure long delays on congested, deteriorated roads, highways and bridges. He said he will use his more than 40 years of experience in construction, engineering and business management to stabilize the county Board of Chosen Freeholders.

“I’ve handled budgets well in excess of $100 million, giving me intimate knowledge in the areas of money management and cost-cutting,” he said. “My work has included the design and construction of several paper and steel mills and three medical centers in New Jersey, which resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs in the state.”

Democrat incumbent Blanquita Valenti, who is seeking her fourth term, is a 53-year resident of New Brunswick.

She previously served as a councilwoman in New Brunswick for more than 20 years and is the founder and chairperson of the Puerto Rican Board of New Brunswick, a social service agency.

She has served on the freeholder board for 10 years, having been appointed to fill an unexpired term.

“I am running to ensure that the residents of Middlesex County receive the best and most effective services possible,” she said.

If re-elected, Valenti said she would like to focus on community services because it touches on the Department of Aging and Children Services, veterans and more.

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

 

 

 

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 8.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@gmnews.com.