Diaz Loses in Perth Amboy
The state’s only elected Latina mayor has lost her bid for a fourth term in Perth Amboy.
Mayor Wilda Diaz won acclaim in her first foray in 2008 by toppling a fearsome double dipper, who forced the males in the town to take cover lest they incur his wrath and later went to jail on corruption charges.
Tonight, Diaz herself went down in defeat to Councilman Helmin Caba.
Caba is the local Democratic Party chairman.
Routinely an outspoken critic of the Middlesex County Democratic Committee and the party establishment, Bernie Sanders for Prez backer Diaz succumbed in a Dec. 15th runoff election after the Democratic Party got behind a local referendum to require a citywide victor to earn 50% plus one of the vote.
She and Caba both made the runoff on the strength of their Nov. 3rd performances but Caba eventually beat her in a dogfight: 4,748 to 4,118, with provisional ballots still pending but not enough.
Diaz’s loss has statewide consequences, as New Jersey loses not only an independent voice, but the only Hispanic woman elected to an executive position in this state.
From the beginning, she was an unlikely occupant of power, which gave her a grassroots people-power edge through some of the toughest battles of her career, her opposition often motivated by that old reliable establishment elixir of sexism and the quest for lobotomized help installed in local office.
A former bank teller, Diaz first became mayor when she defeated jailbait incumbent Joe Vas in 2008. No one else wanted to risk offending Vas.
She steamrolled him, fumigated city hall, and proceeded to run an audacious local government operation, which once included a threat to bar the county from access to its Perth Amboy-located salt dome unless they worked with her. She lost her share of political scraps, including a food fight over Vas’s replacement, when a lowkey guy named Craig Coughlin outdueled Diaz’s candidate, former Judge Mathias Rodriguez, on the strength of his LD19 Woodbridge connections.
But during her tenure, she brought integrity, vitality, guts, and a genuine caring about the people of Perth Amboy to her job. A daily communicant who comes from a blue-collar immigrant, military service-grounded family, Diaz spent 12 years working for the people who elected her. In addition to the crisis challenges of a pandemic, the mayor went through a very difficult year personally, as she lost her beloved father and nurtured her COVID-19-afflicted husband back to health.
Her defeat at the hands of a party machine-connected candidate in the Dec. 15th runoff election represents a significant statement about the times, not only in her hometown but in the state, for New Jersey fundamentally lacks those public service qualities in many of our so-called “leaders.”
That, however, is politics.
Her opponent outspent her and ultimately outhustled her.
Through the worst of it, Diaz maintained her sense of joyful commitment, and a veteran’s dedication to the job. A serious politician with real leadership skills, InsiderNJ trusts that we have not heard the last of Wilda Diaz, and look forward to her entrance into more than just the discussion wherever the people seek an independent voice of integrity.
“To Latinas United for Political Empowerment, your support for me throughout my tenure as mayor embodies how we as a state should support Latinas and women of color in seeking and holding elected office,” the mayor wrote on her Facebook page. “Thank you for your unwavering support. Over these past twelve years, we saw unprecedented investment in our community from large corporations to our booming small business community. We expanded city services by leaps and bounds to ensure our residents received the support you deserved. Together, we endured some of the most challenging times in our city’s history from Superstorm Sandy to our ongoing experience of COVID-19.
“These challenging times have shown the best of our community and we will get through this pandemic stronger than ever. I want all of our residents to know that my love for this city will never waver. I gave you my best and will always be grateful for the opportunity you gave me. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank my family for their unconditional love and support every step of the way for these past twelve years. My husband Greg, two children, granddaughters, daughter-in-law, sisters, and mother mean the world to me. They sacrificed so much in this journey and I am forever grateful for them. To conclude, I want to reiterate that I am proud of this city and every single resident. Thank you for all of these years and look forward to a successful future for us all. God bless you. God bless Perth Amboy.”
In the meantime, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO Labor Candidates Program celebrated a win.
Said New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech of the two Labor Candidates’ victory in the Perth Amboy Special Runoff Election for Mayor and City Council: “The political campaign skills taught at our Labor Candidates School, along with excellent strategic planning and a lot of hard work from the New Jersey Labor Movement, got these candidates elected.
“The New Jersey State AFL-CIO congratulates Mayor-elect Helmin J. Caba, our AFT 857 brother, and Councilwoman-elect Rose B. Morales, our AFSCME 2269 sister, who won with an outpouring of enthusiastic labor support.”
Wowkanech credited the solidarity of the Middlesex/Somerset Central Labor Council, the Middlesex Building Trades Council, our affiliates, and “many union brothers and sisters[who] powered our Labor Candidates past the many challenges that the coronavirus posed to their campaign.”
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