Jared Hunter, Pascual Ortiz Try to Make History in Woodbury Council Run

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

WOODBURYJared Hunter and Pascual Ortiz will be trying to make history on Tuesday as they run in the Democratic primary for Woodbury’s city council, both citing their backgrounds and determination to make a difference as their reasons to represent their South Jersey community.

Hunter, a skilled community organizer and grant writer, is running for mayor, where if elected he would become the youngest person to ever hold the position, as well as the first African American and openly LBGT member to lead Woodbury’s city government.

Ortiz, an information technology veteran, is running for the Ward 2 council seat, where he would become the first Latino ever elected to serve in Woodbury.

Both are running under Woodbury United Together, which is also supporting Jason Wolfe in Ward 1 and Steve Cope in Ward 3. If they win in Tuesday’s primary, they will advance to November’s general election.

Photo courtesy of Woodbury United Together

Hunter and Ortiz both shared their compelling personal stories for running with Front Runner New Jersey.

As a lead organizer for the influential state nonprofit Salvation and Social Justice, Hunter said he has been community organizing since he was 20 years old and understands what brings people closer together through conversations and collective action. He is pursuing a PhD in public affairs at Rutgers University-Camden where he studies main street redevelopment efforts in South Jersey.

“After years of organizing in Woodbury, talking to folks about what matters most to them in their community, I realized that our public leaders weren’t making decisions that matched up to our community’s values,” Hunter said.

“When decisions are made that go against the wishes of the people, our entire democratic process is threatened. I did my best for years as an organizer, wearing multiple hats and connecting with hundreds across the city to push against the poor decision-making coming from city hall. Realizing that there was only one thing left that I could do, I threw my hat in the ring.”

Ortiz saw his father serve proudly as a local law enforcement officer and mother in the cable industry. That led him to a career in telecommunications, where he is currently a senior consultant/project lead for a cable operator. He works in the telecommunication space managing their IT activities across their footprint for a major project that has a tight deadline and is critical for their business objectives this year.

He said he found it important for Woodbury to represent its entire community and believes his voice would help fulfill that goal.

“Today in the city of Woodbury, the Hispanic community has continued to grow year-to-year, however representation for this group in the city council is not present,” Ortiz said. “This is unfortunate and I want to help change this moving forward. 

“I hope with me running for city council others in the community will see this and also become more engaged. As far as making history, I hope my actions motivate more Hispanics, minorities and other servant leaders to run for public office or support our community through volunteering and other activities that drives Woodbury in the right direction.”

Hunter and Ortiz addressed numerous issues and questions from Front Runner New Jersey about their historic run, being role models in their communities and what they hope to accomplish if elected to office.

Jared Hunter

Jared Hunter. Photo courtesy of Jared Hunter

First, talk about where you grew up, education and family. Just whatever you’d like to share.

Jared Hunter: I grew up in Williamstown up until I was 15. I come from a family of seven (five kids) and remember a lot of the hardships we faced coming up. We were a lower class, working family; my mom stayed home with the kids while my dad worked. There were so many times that it never seemed like we could make ends meet. My mother suffered from an addiction to opioids which was probably the worst part of it all. I had to become a caretaker to the rest of my siblings while my dad was at work and my mom was incapacitated; that was really tough as a young kid going through the same trauma but having to find the resolve to put it all to the side and keep surviving.

We lost our home in 2010 and were displaced for four months in a motel in Turnersville before we finally landed in Woodbury. I found my very first job across the street from our hotel at a barbershop and swept up hair 3-4 hours after school every day. That money was the only money that kept us afloat to wash our clothes, put gas in the car, and buy groceries – my dad was working at a newly opened pizza shop in Paulsboro with his uncle, so our income was really low at that point.

I hated having to leave Williamstown, but I came to love Woodbury faster than I’d ever imagined. The people here are so passionate, knowledgeable, and proactive about actively shaping their community; it was infectious, and I had to get involved right alongside them. I walked right into the Democratic headquarters building on South Broad here in Woodbury and said, “How can I help?” That started my career in local politics and organizing.

I was a whiz kid with chemistry in high school, thanks to a great teacher I had in Mr. Sokolic who passed in 2013. I was determined to understand drug addiction and ways that I could save people from the tragedy of my own childhood, so I enrolled at University of the Sciences as a pharmacology major in 2012. Going back and forth from Woodbury to Philadelphia I got more connected with both communities and got more excited to do my part in making them better places to call home. I changed my major after my second year at USciences and finished up my undergrad career with a capstone paper analyzing the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. It was a major critique on the politics and the policy; how devastating its impact would be on the Camden community with tax breaks that had no real accountability to the residents. (A 2019 audit from the office of the State Comptroller would prove I was right on that account.)

I realized that Camden seemed the place to be to really understand the impacts of politics and policy on communities, so I enrolled in the Master of Public Administration program at Rutgers-Camden after I graduated from USciences in 2016. Before I even finished the MPA, the director of the public affairs program offered me a scholarship I couldn’t refuse so I enrolled in the MSc/PhD program in 2018. I’ve finished up all the requirements for the Master of Science in public affairs as of 2020 and currently working on my dissertation proposal for my doctorate.

My dissertation is a comparative case study of small towns/cities in South Jersey and how their main street development efforts differ and why. I theorize that public participation and quality of public leaders plays the largest role in how successful a main street can be. I’m proud of the work I’ve done and the opportunities my education has afforded me thus far. There’s a lot of work to do, but I’ve got more than enough tools to handle the job.

FRNJ: Tell me about what you do for a living now and how you got into the field?

Jared Hunter: Currently I am the Lead Organizer for Salvation and Social Justice in Trenton. I’ve been community organizing since I was 20 years old, starting out in West Philadelphia as an undergrad. At the time, I didn’t understand what organizing was, but I understood that I wanted to bring people closer together through conversations and collective action. My graduate school career brought me to an epicenter of organizing work in New Jersey – Camden. I started sharpening my skills with running public meetings, discussing issues with residents, nonprofits, clergy, corporations, politicians; all of this was for the purpose of bringing people together to find solutions to the problems they already understood.

My education has afforded me opportunities to enhance my skills including contract and consulting work across the state of New Jersey. I’ve written multi-million dollar grants for projects in Camden, Vineland, Cumberland County, and Newark. I’ve managed community organizing campaigns around cannabis in Millville and Trenton. I brought a $100,000 grant right here to Woodbury in 2020 and successfully directed a city-wide community development program – Woodbury Heart & Soul – that is still running strong.

FRNJ: Why did you get into the race and what impact you hope to make?

Jared Hunter: Woodbury deserves public leaders that listen and act on behalf of the people. The local government has the authority and power to shape and mold so much of our daily wellbeing. The storefronts we see downtown, the public events and activities, the connections and support to give to residents, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations – all of this stems from city hall. As Mayor I want to bring a cohesive vision to our city and give people hope that their government listens to and acts on behalf of their voices. No political agendas, patronage, or acts of loyalty to some other master – just pure, unadulterated public service and leadership. I’ve been giving that to the city for years and I don’t plan to stop when I become Mayor of Woodbury.

FRNJ: On your historic run, how do you feel about making history in that way and how do you hope it will impact those coming behind you?

Jared Hunter: There’s a few important impacts I want folks to understand about mine and Pascual’s run for office. First, Woodbury has seen exponential growth in our Latinx population over the last 20 years and it won’t be slowing any time soon. Woodbury was founded in 1683 and incorporated as a city in 1854. In its 339 years of existence, and 168 years as a separate and sovereign municipality in New Jersey, there has never been a person of color in the mayor’s seat and there has never been a Latinx person to even run for city council, let alone get elected. I’m wildly proud of Pascual’s bravery, passion, and willingness to break this record on behalf of his community. It was an important piece to our campaign ticket that we finally break this generational curse of Woodbury’s and I’m elated to say that we’ve done it. I’ll be even more ecstatic when I watch Pascual take his oath of office in January as the city’s first Latinx Councilperson.

Second, as I mentioned, Woodbury is very behind the times when it comes to the diversity and representation in the mayor’s office. As a young Black bisexual man, I figured now was the perfect time to break a few records all at once and catch us up to speed. I’m humbled to catapult Woodbury into the present and will always do my best to be a good representative of these larger communities.

Third, what’s really important about the impact of these runs is more telling than just about Pascual or myself individually. The election of the first Latinx person to city council and the election of the youngest, first Black, and first openly LGBT+ Mayor tells a story about Woodbury as a whole. It tells the rest of the community, and history itself, that we are ready for our public leaders to reflect this city more equitably. That those who stand in the spaces we can’t; that those who use their voices on our behalf; that those who take a solemn oath to represent the best of who are, should be those who we see in ourselves. Woodbury is ready to make that statement when they vote us into office and I’m excited to know that they will.

FRNJ: How does it feel being a role model, especially for younger people in Black and Latino communities?

Jared Hunter: I’m not going to lie, it’s extremely nerve-wracking at times to be seen as a role model, especially to younger people of color. This city has become more open-minded in its thinking toward diversity & inclusion over the last few years, but I know there is still so much work to be done. Safe and welcoming spaces for everyone should be the floor, and not the ceiling, when it comes to embracing our community as a whole. Young folks have an immense stake in making those spaces possible and come to life. I’ve seen it in the work I’ve done through Woodbury Heart & Soul, adding three young women of color not only to that core leadership team, but also organizing to have them sit on boards of local nonprofits and develop their leadership skills while adding diversity of thought to that larger community work. I’ve seen it while teaching civic engagement through the 21st Century after school program and watching young people make direct connections between their passions and their community. The culture and history and heritage of our Black community in Woodbury spans centuries and that’s a lot to think about taking onto your shoulders to represent. But I know that many of my family and friends will help me carry that load and lift it higher than ever, together.

Like I said, while the work is not new to me it’s still very humbling and scary at times. Our city’s diversity is stronger than ever, but it’s going to take strong leaders to recognize and embrace that diversity with the attention and consideration it deserves. I’ve been doing that for years in Woodbury and now is another moment to sharpen my skills even more and take our city to new heights in celebrating who we truly are, from the streets on the other side of the track, to Broad Street, to City Hall.

FRNJ: Anything else you’d like to add?

Jared Hunter: The more eyes on this campaign, and Woodbury as a whole, the stronger we’ll be and the Woodbury United Together is going to be at the forefront of that work.

Pascual Ortiz

Pascual Ortiz and his family. Photo by AC JosepH Media

FRNJ: First, talk about where you grew up, education and family. Just whatever you’d like to share.

Pascual Ortiz: I grew up in Willingboro and moved to the city of Woodbury after I was married to my wife Christina. I have lived in the city of Woodbury for almost 16 years and currently married for close to 20 years, I have a daughter (12 years old) and son (8 years old) who both attend Holy Angels Catholic School. My wife has her MBA and is a teacher at their school for STEM and Advance Math I am working on completing my MBA in business administration with a focus on project management. 

Highlighting the great culture and leadership in South Jersey’s Latinx community.

FRNJ: Tell me about what you do for a living now and how you got into the field?

Pascual Ortiz: Let’s me first answer the second half of your question and provide you some background information that you may find interesting. My father retired proudly from law enforcement after 20-plus years of service and my mother worked with the local cable operator Comcast. Given my father long workdays at times I found myself sitting in my mother’s office while she completed her work assignments.  As any child, I found a way to keep myself entertain and given all the next gen technology at the time around me I was drawn into learning more and overtime started to help with UAT on new products when possible.  From early on in my childhood I knew this was the industry I wanted to join and in 2001, I was hired into Comcast as a front-line employee.  Fast forward until today, I have now worked in telecommunication industry for over 20 years in various leadership roles across various departments within in the industry. I have lead team consisting of 10 people upward to thousands. This has given me the honor to lead and befriend some of the smartest and talented people. Given my experience in various areas in the telecommunication space, I have been fortunate to have worked with some of the top cable operators in the United States such as Comcast and Cox to name a few. In addition, I have also worked on various programs tied to cable operators located in Canada and Britain.

FRNJ: Why did you get into the race and what impact you hope to make?

Pascual Ortiz: I joined the race due to what I saw the last two years due to the pandemic being home. When the pandemic happened, it forced me to stay home (not travel for work) and gave me an opportunity to attend the city council meeting virtually. What I heard was very concerning and made me realize I had two possible options moving forward. One, I could accept what’s going on and accept outcome to come or, two, I could stand up and be a voice for the community thus driving positive change. I will not make a bunch of false promises but I will do commit to doing is listening to what important to community and be their advocate/voice when possible. 

FRNJ: How does it feel being a role model, especially for younger people in Black and Latino communities?

Pascual Ortiz: As a proud father I am always reminded that I have to be a role model in what and how I present myself on a daily basis. I was fortunate to be raised by caring but stern parents and was taught that my actions are a reflection of not only myself but my family, friends and other looking for my support. I am instilling this mindset in my children as well as being a role model amongst your peers has no start date. We are all role models to someone so it’s important to keep this in mind always. You never know how your actions in a particular situation in time drives someone else down the right path in life.      

FRNJ: Anything else you’d like to add?

Pascual Ortiz: I am a hard worker thus why I am pursuing this opportunity within my community for the right reasons. Right now my goal is to help drive change on behalf of the community. I feel this role on council for Ward 2 is important as I can help provide a voice to community that up to this point may have felt overlooked or been too busy to speak up or be heard. I have seen some of the issues firsthand the last couple of years and don’t want to see this continue any longer.

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