Perth Amboy Mayor Helmin Caba was sworn into office Friday morning, ushering in a new era in the Middlesex County city of more than 50,000.
“My main priority is to move Perth Amboy forward for its residence and bring confidence on government to our city,” Caba said. “That’s what I ran on, to make sure we have competency in our city hall and the city in general.”
The former councilman replaces Mayor Wilda Diaz, the former three-term mayor whose tenure drew challenges from three sitting councilmen, Caba included, in a year defined by a global pandemic and the ravages it has wrought on the state’s economy.
But Caba’s focus is on Perth Amboy’s economy.
“One of our city’s first challenges will be to rebound from this COVID-19 pandemic, not only for us but nationwide,” he said. “I’m looking to pursue more federal, state and county services and funding to assist our recovery.”
Caba’s two council running mates, Rose Morales and BJ Torres, defeated Diaz’s council candidates, and the new mayor believes those wins are enough to give him a majority on the council, though how that holds remains to be seen.
Morales and Torres won seats held by Caba and former Councilman Fernando Irizarry, who gave up his seat to run for the mayorship. Councilman Joel Pabon Sr. also ran for mayor but remains on the council.
Pabon endorsed Diaz in the runoff after placing fourth in the first round of voting.
For the new mayor, reorganizing the city’s staff is a top priority.
“I don’t want people to knock of any of our city employees, because we have phenomenal city employees. The only thing I feel is they were not in the right place. We just need to move them around, some of them, to reflect their skillset,” he said. “But bringing competency to city hall is vital.”
He said he’d already discussed some changes with city department heads in a meeting last month, though many of those were centered around increasing the city’s focus on data.
A formal swearing in ceremony will be held on Jan. 8, but in either case, Caba believes he has a mandate going into office.
“The citizens have already spoke, and they decided that, yes, the city is not only ready for change but it’s in need of change,” he said.