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Padilla Becomes Undersheriff After Leaving Freeholder Board…Teacher Is Chosen To Seek Freeholder Seat

Padilla Becomes Undersheriff After Leaving Freeholder Board


June 8, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE STAR-LEDGER. All rights reserved.

Surrounded by friends and family, Jesus Padilla was sworn in yesterday as Essex County's first Puerto Rican undersheriff.

It was the third in a series of firsts for the 62-year-old Newark resident who moved from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, as a child.

In 1967, Padilla became the first Puerto Rican police officer in the Newark Police Department. In 2002, he was elected the county's first Puerto Rican freeholder after several unsuccessful attempts to enter politics.

Padilla had to vacate his seat to take the $90,000 undersheriff's position.

Five of the eight other freeholders attended Padilla's swearing-in, which was held in the office of Sheriff Armando Fontoura in the New Courts Building in Newark.

Padilla turned to his former colleagues and quipped, "I'll be knocking on your door for our budget."

Freeholder Johnny Jones said Padilla had done well in his short time on the freeholder board. "Jesse is the kind of individual you have a great deal of respect and admiration for," Jones said.

Democratic leaders in District 1 will appoint someone to temporarily fill Padilla's open seat. The district encompasses the North and East wards in Newark and parts of the Central and West wards.

A candidate from any party can run for the last year of the unexpired three-year term during November's general election.

So far, Samuel Gonzalez -- an aide to Newark Councilwoman Bessie Walker -- has emerged as a possible replacement. Gonzalez recently was elected to the Newark Advisory School Board. Dual office holding is common in New Jersey, and Gonzalez has said he would like to retain his school board seat.

Both Gonzalez and Padilla have a connection to the North Ward Center, a nonprofit group in Newark founded and headed by political power broker Steve Adubato Sr.

Gonzalez worked there in recreation several years ago, and Padilla recently resigned as the head of security there to take the undersheriff's job. The freeholder position is part-time.

Yesterday, Padilla -- co-founder and former president of the Hispanic Law Enforcement Society of Essex County -- said he was happy to return to his roots.

Padilla was in the Newark Police Academy with Fontoura in 1967.

"As I look around this room, I see many of my friends from the Newark Police Department. It's like a homecoming," he said.

Teacher Is Chosen To Seek Freeholder Seat; Democrat Carmen Rodriguez, 33, A Puerto Rico Native Raised In Camden, Will Try To Become The First Hispanic On The Board.

By Kristen A. Graham

September 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Philadelphia Inquirer. All rights reserved.

Less than two months before the election, Camden County Democrats yesterday tapped an unknown candidate with strong ties to Camden City to fill a spot on their freeholder ticket.

If elected, Carmen Rodriguez of Merchantville, who grew up in Camden and teaches science at Audubon High School, would be the first Hispanic freeholder on the seven-member board.

Rodriguez, 33, will run with Deputy Freeholder Director Edward McDonnell, 60, a Camden County College dean. She is seeking to fill the seat of Laurelle Cummings of Waterford, who chose not to seek reelection to the all-Democrat board.

Married to Ornan Sosa, a guard at the county's youth detention center, Rodriguez has two young sons, a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University, and master's degrees from the College of New Jersey and the University of Pennsylvania.

Her previous political involvement was limited to grassroots work - handing out flyers, registering voters, she said.

Born in Puerto Rico, she moved to Camden with her family when she was 4. She attended public schools, graduating from Woodrow Wilson High in 1989, and taught in the Camden school system before taking her job in Audubon.

That she could influence county policy is a little unreal to her, Rodriguez said last night, shaking hands and accepting kisses on the cheek from well-wishers.

"I love to say, 'I came from this, and look at what I can do,' " she said. "In school, I always drilled this into my students: 'Get out and vote. Make a difference.' Now I can lead by example."

Rodriguez was selected from a field of 40 after the party blanketed Camden County Democrats and unaffiliated voters with a mailing looking for new blood, at a cost of $35,000.

She was encouraged to step forward by her mentor, Assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D., Camden), who last night threw her arms around Rodriguez.

The nomination of a bright, young Hispanic woman "really means a lot," Cruz-Perez said. "She has everything it takes to be in this position."

Rodriguez's nomination means that John Kerfoot, the 89-year-old Democratic stalwart who filled the ballot spot for the June primary while a search was conducted, will step aside.

McDonnell and Rodriguez will oppose Republicans Bill Mann of Haddon Township, a research analyst who spent half of last year in Iraq, and Scott Morrison of Mount Ephraim, who works in finance.

No Republican has been elected freeholder since 1990.

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