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Rafano Resigns, Leaving New Brunswick's 79-Year-Old Freeholder Carrying Torch For County Democrats

Blanquita Valenti Asks Voters for 4th Term as Her Former Running Mate Resigns to Become Superior Court Judge
Chris Rafano Swears in Blanquita Valenti
Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti is sworn in by her former running mate Chris Rafano, who is leaving to be a judge. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Only one of three incumbents will be seeking re-election in this year's campaign for Middlesex County's Board of Chosen Freeholders, as former New Brunswick City Councilwoman Blanquita Valenti will seek a fourth term on the governing body.

Valenti, a former teacher in Woodbridge Township and widow of a former New Brunswick City Commissioner, served on New Brunswick's appointed school board from 1971-1974 and first joined the City Council by appointment in 1990.

Later that year, she was elected for the first time, along with another first-time candidate: Mayor James Cahill.

Valenti went on to serve four consecutive four-year terms in that office before stepping down.  She was one of the last remaining dual office-holders in New Jersey, simultaneously serving as a Councilwoman and Freeholder for six years beginning in 2005.

Christopher Rafano (South River), the chair of the seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders, submitted his resignation at last night's meeting.  He was appointed to a coveted judgeship in the Middlesex County Superior Court by Governor Chris Christie this January.

Republicans feel the move could bolster their party's chances of winning seats on the board this fall.

Deputy Director Ronald Rios, who has served on the board since 2008, officially assumed the role of Director last night.  Rios had been filling in for Rafano since he stopped showing up at meetings in January.

"I firmly believe that Middlesex County government is the epitome of good government, one that listens to the needs of constituents," said Rios in a prepared speech.  He went on to credit Rafano for leading the baord "through one of the nation's most difficult economic periods and two hurricanes that devastated our communities"

Rafano, donning a judge's robe, swore in Valenti as the new Deputy Director, saying it was his "first act" as a judge.  His appointment was approved last week by the New Jersey Senate.

The third spot on the ticket will be open as well.  Stephen "Pete" Dalina (Woodbridge) declined to run for re-election and has not attended any meetings since the new year due to illness.

Three local officials from across the county have announced their interest in the openings: Woodbridge Council President Charles Kenny, Piscataway Council President Kenneth Armwood, and North Brunswick Councilwoman Cathy Nicola.

The Democratic Party committee members will likely trim the field to three at their convention on March 20, but it is concievable the victors will face an intra-party challenge in the June 4 primary election.

From there, the winners will face Republicans and perhaps Independent candidates in the November 5 general election, on the same ballot where voters will decide whether to re-elect Republican Governor Chris Christie.

Front-runners for the Republican nomination include former Judge Roger Daley (East Brunswick), and served two terms on the Freeholder board, and Jordan Rickards (Milltown), an attorney who has previously run unsuccessfully for Freeholder and State Senate.

Additionally, Democrat Millie Scott is expected to seek a second term as Middlesex County's Sheriff in this year's elections.

Scott, a former Freeholder, defeated Freeholder James Polos in a 2010 intra-party battle sparked by ten-term incumbent Joe Spicuzzo's departure from the race.  A year later, he was arrested for corruption.