By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MILLVILLE – While many across the country watched the attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump in January in shock, for attorney and community advocate Yolanda Garcia Balicki, it became an impetus to run for office.
Garcia Balicki, the wife of former Cumberland County Democratic Party chair Bob Balicki, had been asked to run for public office before, but admitted that seeing demonstrators fight law enforcement officers and break into Capitol was a turning point.
Now Garcia Balicki is running as a Democratic taking on incumbent Michael Testa for his District 1 seat in the New Jersey Senate. She is currently a bilingual attorney working on immigration law at the law firm Helmer, Conley, & Kasselman, P.A. in Bridgeton and Vineland.
Garcia’s Assembly running mates are Chris Wilson and John Capizola Jr. running against incumbents Antwan McClellan and Eric Simonsen.
“I remember my 26-year-old son calling me, ‘Mommy, are you watching the news?'” Garcia Balicki told Front Runner La Prensa. “He said put on CNN. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t go back to work. I was so distraught for what we know was [election fraud] lie.
“It stirred me. I started thinking about the political divided in this country. I was asked to run and this time I decided to run,” Garcia Balicki continued.
Who is Yolanda Garcia Balicki?
Describing herself as “a small-town girl,” Garcia Balicki grew up in Woodbine, where her father worked in corrections, which would become part of her life. Her grandfather worked in corrections in Puerto Rico. She graduated from Vineland High School and earned her bachelor’s degree Rutgers before starting work with the New Jersey Parole Board.
She would become connected with the parole board, working in prisons and climbing up the ladder – often as the only woman and person of color in the room – for the next 33 years. In 2002, she was appointed by Gov. Jim McGreevey as deputy executive director.
Garcia Balicki is a first-generation college student who attended law school at Rutgers University-Camden law school at night while holding down a full-time job to pursue her dream as an attorney. She said it was corrections where she learned the importance of fairness and the impact those decisions can have on families and communities.
Finding Fairness in Corrections
“Corrections is ingrained in me,” Garcia Balicki said. “I wasn’t seeking a career in corrections, but just the way it worked out. When you’re working with offenders and the parole board, you learn about some really horrific stories that affect our communities were people are victimized.
“I also dealt with their families and always tried to put myself in their shoes as the loved one of offenders and operate from a place of fairness because I grew up in a community of color. I know the different problems in our community. I have a sensitivity to try to understand where they were coming from.
“So I tried to deal with the families and the offenders with fairness and a balanced approach. One of my greatest successes in my professional reputation as a hearing officer was taking the facts and applying the rule of law or administrative law to make a fair decision with that in mind. I feel like I’ve always been that way, even today with my immigration clients,” Garcia Balicki said.
At Second Glance
Garcia Balicki met her husband Bob Balicki through corrections, but it would be years before they became romantically involved. They constantly crossed with other’s paths through work.
“We’ve known each other since the late 1980s when I worked at Bayside State Prison,” Garcia Balicki said about her then future husband. The couple married in 2016. “At that time, I was commuting to law school at night, so it was around that time. I’m 10 years younger, so live took different journeys. He was already married with children and I was just starting out my career.
“We would see each other often in Trenton and at the Statehouse. We always collaborated on business, nothing personal. About seven years ago, his son was getting married and my parents were invited to the wedding. I went as a guest and at that time we were both divorced. We had always admired each other’s professionalism and leadership skills. We just connected and started dating.”
Leadership and Local Experience
While Garcia Balicki has never held public office, she was influential in numerous high profile positions. Along with service as deputy executive director of the New Jersey State Parole Board, she is a board trustee with the Rowan College at South Jersey and is second vice president of the Gloucester County branch NAACP.
She is the former president of the Vineland High School Marching Band parents and serves as a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Cumberland County Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association and the NJSBA Immigration Law Section.
Garcia Balicki said it is her experience growing up in South Jersey that has always helped her connect with people.
“I understand the problems here,” Garcia Balicki said. “I know the Woodbine, Dennis Township area and grew up visiting all of the beach towns. My three sons are all proud products of Vineland Public School system. Because of my experiences in my life, I understand what the needs of community are because of where I come from and my experiences in life. I grew up in a working class family and had the opportunity to see life from both sides.”
Garcia Balicki said she embraces and enjoys the opportunity of being a role model not just for Latinas but for women in general. Growing up in the male-dominated world of corrections, she knew she had to always work harder to shine and get noticed. She said her parents left her valued lessons of how hard work can define you and she hung on to those lessons throughout her career.
“There’s still factors that come up that make it difficult for a woman,” Garcia Balicki said. “We are still treated differently sometimes. I take pride in being a ground breaker, teacher and mentor when asked that of me.
“On the other side as a Latina, I love talking about my culture and who I am. That’s why I never dropped my last name when I got married because that’s who I am; my identity. I’m proud of that. I think as a woman of color, we have a responsibility to help the generations after us. I’m always available for that, no matter who it is.”
Garcia Balicki said she has even been a resource for her three sons, often telling them she has lived the challenges they are currently going through.
“I know the hardships of creating your own path in life. I’m always willing to share my own experiences so someone coming after me won’t have it as hard.”
She said she admires U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who also has Puerto Rican roots. Although they have never met she realized how similar their lives were growing up after reading the history-making jurist biography.
Garcia Balicki will be trying to make history of her own as the first Latina to be elected senator in District 1 if she is successful in November. She said regardless, her lessons of hard work and treating people fairly will continue to play a pivotal role in her life.
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