NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On a November 8th, citizens across the United States will flock to polling stations not only to decide the nation's next president, but also in many communities, the fate of its county representation.
On the ballot, three candidates each from the Middlesex County Democratic Organization and The Middlesex County Republican Organization will be competing for three seats on the county's Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The "Board of Chosen Freeholders" is a term for New Jersey's county governing bodies. In Middlesex, the board is comprised of seven elected officials.
From the Democratic Party, current Freeholders Blanquita Valenti, Kenneth Armwood and Charles Kenny will be seeking re-election.
On the Republican ticket, Freeholder candidates are Joesph “Joe” Scillieri, Kathleen “Katie” Callabrese and Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu.
This election will also determine the position of the Middlesex County Sherriff, between current Democratic County Sherriff Mildred Scott and his Republican opponent, “Peter” Pedro Pisar.
In a county where registered Democrats vastly outnumber registered Republicans, the Middlesex Democratic Organization has dominated county government for nearly 20 consecutive years.
Current Freeholder Blanquita Valenti has been involved in community affairs for over 40 years, and will be seeking her fifth three-year term.
Valenti's Democratic running mates Kenneth Armwood, who replaced Democratic Freeholder, Christopher Rafano, in March of 2012, and Charles Kenny, who came on the board in 2013, will be seeking their second three-year terms.
While the Middlesex Democratic machine has run county government for decades, Republican candidates are still after the openings on the powerful board.
In an interview on The New Brunswick Today Show, Peter “Pedro” Pisar stated he is basing his campaign platform on the fact that the county--and the Sheriff's Department where he used to work--needs change.
Republican Freeholder candidates Joseph “Joe” Scillieri and Zhiyu “Jimmy” Hu are also platform campaigning on the idea that the county is in need of a new direction.
The former Middlesex County sheriff officer expressed the need for more traditional law enforcement, saying he will put more officers on the streets for community protection, and will work to address the opiate epidemic that is sweeping New Jersey.
Currently, Sheriff's officers mostly handle courthouse security, prisoner transportation, and the execution of warrants.
While Pisar wants to extend the roll of the Police department to remedy the heroin epidemic, his opponent, and current Middlesex Sherrif, Mildred Scott, believes the police departments funding should remain synonmous with court house security and protection.
NJ.com's Spencer Kent reports that Scott recognizes the seriousness of the heroin epidemic, but also that "a full-on program should not be something the department tackles, adding that the cost would be monumental."
In an interview with NBToday, Pisar also describes the need to get the community back on track after incidents of county corruption seen under the one party demorcatic rule.
This reference to Middlesex County’s corruption-ridden Democratic Party becomes highlighted by two major incidents. Back in 2011, former Middlesex County Sheriff, Joseph Spicuzzo, was arrested under pretenses of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for jobs and promotions.
And in 2003, a campaign fundraiser and close friend of former Governor James E McGreevey, David D’Amiano, was sentenced to 2 years in prison for extorting money from a family owned farm in Piscataway, in exchange for campaign donations.
D’Amiano collected $40,000 from Piscataway farm owner, Mark Halper, in exchange for Middlesex County to settle a property dispute in Halper’s favor.
Despite these incidents, the MCDO has brought forth several positive marks of change to the county, as noted several times in recent public speeches by current Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios.
On October 24, First Lady Michelle Obama sent a letter to Freeholder Director Rios applauding the county for “effectively ending veteran homelessness.”
The most prominent Middlesex county program in place for veterans is the Veterans Housing Assistance Program of VHAP. This program has served 307 veterans and their families since the program started.
VHAP collaborates in conjunction with two other Veteran assistant funded non-profits, called Soldier On and Community Hope. VHAP annually receives $100,000 in county funding, and provides financial resources and case management to help veterans and their families remain housed, or helps in establishing permanent housing.
In addition, the county has partnered with Pennrose Properties to turn the historic Roosevelt Care Center Hospital in Edison into a new 84-unit housing complex. According to a county press release, the development will cost approximately $24.9 million dollars, and is estimated to generate 14 million in private equity.