Serving on council just another hat for Morales

New Jamesburg official
holds wide array of jobs
and volunteer positions

By sandi carpello
Staff Writer

New Jamesburg official
holds wide array of jobs
and volunteer positions
By sandi carpello
Staff Writer

JERRY WOLKOWITZ Carlos Morales discusses his latest role, serving on the Jamesburg council.JERRY WOLKOWITZ Carlos Morales discusses his latest role, serving on the Jamesburg council.

JAMESBURG — Whether it’s fighting fires, dealing with hazardous materials or signing up to run for municipal government with only five minutes’ notice, Democratic Councilman Carlos Morales says he’s always up for the challenge.

"I do things that other people only think about doing. I’m confident and I’m determined," he said.

The 33-year-old native of Puerto Rico was sworn in last Thursday to his first term on the Borough Council, making him both the youngest Democrat and the only council member of Puerto Rican origin in borough history.

Morales, who is president of the Middlesex County Firefighters Association, acts as the borough’s current fire inspector and serves as a combat soldier in the Army Reserve, said holding political office was never on his agenda.

However, last April, Morales, who has lived in the borough for 13 years, received a call from his longtime friend, Mayor Anthony LaMantia, requesting that he run on the Democratic ticket in lieu of former Councilman Sam Cline, who did not seek re-election last year.

"It was right before the primary," Morales recalled. "[LaMantia] asked me to run. He gave me only five minutes to make a decision, and I said, ‘I don’t lose anything by taking a risk. I just gain more life experience.’ "

In the course of his day, Morales can be found doing any number of things. One thing is for certain, though — he’s almost always doing something. In fact, some days involve roughly 18 hours of work in a variety of roles, he said. He responds to oil spills as part of his full-time job with the Middlesex County Hazardous Materials Response Unit; he undergoes extensive combat training at Fort Dix several times a month; and he coaches baseball and softball for borough recreation leagues.

Though his job with the Haz-Mat unit has him trained for the serious task of dealing with toxic chemicals and responding to terrorist-type situations, Morales said his most rewarding job is playing his familial roles with his wife of 12 years, Francine, and two children — Devin, 12, and Myriah, 5 — at their house on Forge Road.

"I serve my town. I serve my county. I serve in the state. I may have to serve the country, and I still have to serve my family. I have a lot of responsibility," he said.

Raised in a minority community in Elizabeth by a single mother who supported her three young children by working a night shift in a plastics warehouse, Morales said he quickly developed a street-wise persona. He said he said he was never "book-smart."

"I was a street person. I didn’t like to study," he said.

Eight months after graduating from Elizabeth High School, Morales joined the Army and began training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C.

"It was a shocking experience," he said. "In the military, they yell and scream at you."

Despite the harsh discipline, Morales developed an affinity for the military lifestyle. He went on to become a mechanic and dispatcher for the Army Reserve and a member of the National Guard. In 1990, when the United States went to war against Iraq, Morales was sent for training at the infantry unit in Fort Wagner, S.C., and to its Drill Sergeant Academy, where Morales trained to fight in the Gulf War.

He never actually fought in the war, but he said the military taught him one of his most important life lessons.

"The military won’t allow you to fail. You learn responsibility. You learn how to help your fellow man. You know how to work together and solve problems. It’s not about a personal agenda," he said.

That is the way Morales said he plans to approach his first year on the Borough Council. With a mission to tackle the borough’s recent fiscal crisis, Morales said the council must pay closer attention to detail and take a harder look at devising a long-term financial strategy.

Morales also envisions a revitalized downtown area for Jamesburg, with more small businesses, cobblestone streets and outdoor cafés. Looking at surrounding municipalities such as New Brunswick and Cranbury, which have beautified downtown areas, Morales said local officials should reach out for some pointers.

"We should find out how these municipalities got there," he said, "educate ourselves on how other people are doing it."

As a father, Morales said he is also looking forward to being the council’s liaison to the Board of Education, especially in light of the recent situation involving the school district’s budgetary shortfall and the resulting cuts that were made.

"We have talented kids in Jamesburg. The strongest athletes are from Jamesburg," he said.

Morales said that overall he plans to serve the people in the community to the best of his ability.

"I am honest and straight. I am a real person. Drop the word ‘Democrat’ off the front of my name and put a ‘J’ for Jamesburg. It’s about working for the people who voted you in," he said.