Home>Highlight>Blanquita Valenti, trailblazing Middlesex freeholder, dies at 87

Former Middlesex County Freeholder Blanquita Valenti. (Photo: Facebook.)

Blanquita Valenti, trailblazing Middlesex freeholder, dies at 87

First Latina to win countywide office, first Latina city councilwoman and school board member in New Brunswick

By David Wildstein, March 10 2021 7:12 am

Blanquita Bird Valenti,  a popular vote-getter who spent 15 years as a Middlesex County freeholder and 20 years as a New Brunswick city councilwoman, died on Tuesday evening.  She was 87.

Valenti became the first Latina to win a countywide election in Middlesex County in 2004.  She died shortly after Middlesex Democrats nominated Claribel Cortes as the first Latina to run for a constitutional row office in the county.

She was also the first Latina to serve on the New Brunswick City Council.

“She will be remembered for her compassion, her determination and her unwavering commitment to her community. Middlesex County is better for her efforts, and we are forever grateful for her service,” said Craig Coughlin, the Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly.

Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin P. McCabe said Valenti’s “dedication to serving the county’s residents was unparalleled and is reflected in a lifetime of commitment to education, outreach and assisting those most in need.”

“Freeholder Valenti was seen across the state as a role model for young women and Latinos to get involved in their local communities,” McCabe said.

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez called Valenti “a champion for children and a gentle lady with an iron will.”

Blanquita Valenti as a New Brunswick school board member in 1971.

In 1971, New Brunswick Mayor Patricia Q. Sheehan named Valenti to serve on the Board of Education after a new law added two seats to the board.  In addition to Valenti, the first Latina to serve on the school board, Sheehan appointed the first Black woman, Marion Neal.   She served three years and turned down an offer from Mayor Aldrage B. Cooper, Jr. to serve a second term.

Valenti was appointed to the city council in 1990 after Rocco Catanese resigned become the New Brunswick City Clerk.  Assemblyman Joseph Egan (D-New Brunswick), who was city council president at the time, played a key role in recruiting Valenti to serve.

Egan and Valenti defeated Edward Selby and Chikongola Linton in the Democratic primary.  Valenti was the top vote-getter with a margin of around 670 votes on a ticket with first-time mayoral candidates James Cahill.

She won her first election in November when she and Egan vanquished Republicans John Clark and Mark Donlan.

Valenti was easily re-elected to the city council in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Following the retirement of Democrat Jane Brady in 2004, Valenti sought a seat on the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders.  Democrats picked her to run with incumbents Pete Dalina and Christopher Rafano.

She finished second in a six candidate field for three seats, outdistancing her Republican opponents, including former Assemblyman Francis J. Court (R-Highland Park), by more than 57,000 votes.

At the time of her election, Valenti was one of two women on the seven-member freeholder board, along with Camille Fernicola.

She was re-elected four times by wide margins, including a plurality of more than 60,000 as the top vote-getter in her final campaign in 2016.

Valenti spent more than 38 years as a teacher in Sayreville, Iselin, and New Brunswick, and at Rutgers University and Trenton State College.

McCabe credited Valenti with providing Middlesex County residents with a “quality, affordable life.” He said she exceeded the Board’s mission in creating programs to improve the quality of life for families, seniors, the disabled, and veterans when she announced her retirement in 2019.

He called her “the personification of dignity and class.”

“Blanquita’s legacy as an elected official will endure as she embodied what all elected officials aspire to be. She was thoughtful, compassionate, and above all else community-minded. Blanquita worked tirelessly every day on behalf of the residents of Middlesex County and her voice will certainly be missed.,” said Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Perth Amboy).  “She will continue to inspire me, and I am forever grateful for her friendship and service.”

Coughlin called Valenti a “dedicated public servant and historic trailblazer.”

“After shattering glass ceilings for the Latinx community across Middlesex County, she devoted her time to bettering local schools, advocating for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities, and improving quality of life for families,” Coughlin said.

“Blanquita Valenti’s generosity of spirit was evident throughout her life, from her career as a heralded educator expanding the minds of all of her students to her extended tenures as Councilwoman and Freeholder, Blanquita was a guide and innovator who kept us moving forward and embracing all around us,” said Middlesex County Vice Chair Beatrice Moskowitz. “Blanquita knew the only way to success was leading with the community, a philosophy we will continue to embrace.”

Menendez said that Valenti “helped create programs and services to support children, older adults and people living with disabilities, provide more affordable housing and tackle veterans’ homelessness in the county.”

“Her four decades of public service included more than 30 years as an educator, positions on several community boards and organizations in New Brunswick and throughout Central Jersey, and as an advocate on issues affecting the Latino community,” Menendez said.  “Blanquita has left her mark and will be sorely missed. ”

She was a founder of the Puerto Rican Action Board in 1971, served as a member of the state Welfare Board in the 1960s – Gov. Richard J. Hughes named her at the suggestion of former Senate President John Lynch — and served as chair of the New Brunswick Board of Ethics and as a trustee of Middlesex County College in the 1990s.

Her late husband, Carl T. Valenti, served as a New Brunswick City Commissioner from 1967 to 1970, as the Middlesex Borough Municipal Court Judge from 1964 to 1965, and later as the attorney to the New Brunswick Housing Authority.  He died in 2008 at age 76 after 51 years of marriage.

Valenti is survived by five children and her grandchildren.

Visitation will be held from 3-7 PM on Friday at the Selover Funeral Home in North Brunswick. Funeral services are scheduled for 8:15 AM on Saturday, followed by a 9 AM  Mass at the St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church in New Brunswick.

This story was updated at 11:12 AM with comment from Coughlin, at 12:36 PM with comment from Lopez, and at 10:54 PM with comment from Menendez. 

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