EDISON, NJ—Freeholder H. James Polos said that the state’s second most populous county used to be “maybe a machine,” in his remarks at the Board of Chosen Freeholders’ annual re-organization meeting on January 6.

Polos, a former Mayor of Highland Park, has often been on the outside looking in at the Democratic Party’s establishment.

Yet despite the challenges he has faced, Polos has managed to stay on the Freeholder Board for 18 years.

In 2010, he took on the powers that be by running against then-Freeholder Mildred Scott for the Sheriff position that had just opened up.

Polos lost by just 81 votes out of 777 cast by Democratic Party Committee members.  Scott had been endorsed by outgoing Sheriff Joseph Spicuzzo, who was eventually jailed on corruption charges and recently released.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes in what our county is all about,” said Polos, reflecting on his 18 years on the board.  “There’s a new paradigm.”

“We’re dealing with the heroin addiction problem, we’re dealing with law enforcement issues, we’re dealing with the threat of terrorism,” said Polos.

Harkening back to his first year on the Freeholder Board, 1998, Polos called modern-day Middlesex “a different world,” and also made the curious comments on the political machine:

Again, put it in perspective.  1998: Bill Clinton was President, gasoline was 85 cents a gallon, the morgate rate for a 30-year mortgage was 7%.  And at that time Columbine, ISIS, and terrorism didn’t exist.  It was a different world.

Well, we have changed and we’ve changed because we have a great board… Wonderful colleagues and a hard-working administrator, and a team that really take these challenges on every day.  That’s why it’s so exciting to be an elected official in this county because we’re stepping up to the plate, we’re taking the lead, and we’re being proactive.

We’ve kind of changed from maybe a machine, an older kind of machine, to a new lightweight group that is ready to adapt, be flexible, be responsive and resourceful to the needs of the people.

During his campaign for re-election, Polos had promised to grant a sit-down interview to New Brunswick Today in 2015, but ultimately did not respond to multiple inquiries in October.

Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.