Claribel Cortes, a rising star in the Middlesex County political scene, was sworn in as Middlesex County surrogate Friday — becoming the first Latina constitutional officer in county history.
Cortes, who also serves as member of the North Brunswick Township council, is the co-founder and president of the Setroc Group, a marketing and public relations firm based in New Brunswick. She also serves as a vice chair and board member of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
“It is an honor and privilege to not only serve the residents of Middlesex County as their new surrogate, but to be the first Latina in this county to do so,” she told ROI-NJ. “The Middlesex County Surrogate’s Office has done incredible work for its residents, and I am excited to build upon the team created by Kevin Hoagland.”
Cortes, whose nomination was approved by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee, takes over the position left vacant by Hoagland, who retired in December after 28 years of service. The office will be on the ballot in the November 2021 General Election.
The county surrogate acts as the judge of the Middlesex County Surrogate’s Court, which is responsible for probating wills; processing adoptions, contested probate matters and alleged incompetents; filming and recording all probate proceedings; investing minors’ funds; appointing guardians of minors; and handling the administration of estates without wills.
“Like everyone else in America, the COVID pandemic has forced me to pause and reevaluate how I can make the greatest impact to better the community around me,” Cortes said. “So many of us have experienced unexpected loss due to the pandemic, and, unfortunately, not everyone plans for the worst-case scenario. This is where the Surrogate’s Office can be a resource to help families when they need it most and help prepare for the unfair burden left after unexpected loss.”
Middlesex County Commissioner Director Ronald Rios said he is confident Cortes will have impact.
“Today is an important day, not only for Claribel Cortes, but is a historic one for Middlesex County,” he said. “We are honored to have her take on the role of county surrogate, a position which will see her directly impact the lives of countless Middlesex County residents.”
Cortes has a long record of public service. From 2017 to 2020, she was a member of the North Brunswick Township school board, where she chaired the board’s Community Relations Committee. She is also a past member of the board of trustees for Middlesex College.
“Service to my community has always been a driving force in my life,” she said. “Whether it is in my work in journalism, with the New Jersey Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or as a local elected official in North Brunswick, I have always carried with me the desire to understand the community around me and to help others. This is why I ran for the North Brunswick school board, and why I joined the North Brunswick council last year. I am a mother and resident, and I wanted to make a difference for my children and my neighbors.”
Cortes is a media executive with nearly three decades of experience working for such companies as Fox News, ABC News and, most recently, the Associated Press. As director of digital media for the Associated Press, she managed a global news division, securing partnerships with Warner Bros., Sony and Disney.
At the Setroc Group, she assists mid- to large-size firms and government agencies in expanding their media footprint in the Hispanic market via digital and broadcast media.