NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. hosted the county’s annual Latino Heritage Celebration on Tuesday, Oct. 4, in Newark. The celebration paid homage to the rich culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to the Spanish-speaking nations of Europe, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.
During the program, DiVincenzo presented the county’s 2022 Estrella del Condado de Essex, or Stars of Essex County, Awards to Isabel Cruz, constituent services coordinator for U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. and member of the Essex County College board of trustees, and Alfaro Ortiz, retired director of the Essex County Correctional Facility.
“We are honored to recognize Isabel Cruz and Alfaro Ortiz for their commitment to improving the lives of all residents, their leadership, and their dedication to public service,” DiVincenzo said. “Our cultural celebrations give us an opportunity to honor and recognize the diversity of Essex County and learn about the heritage of our constituents.”
Ortiz joined the Essex County Correctional Facility in 2006 as deputy director and was promoted to director in 2009. He helped the facility gain accreditation from the American Correctional Association for the first time, got the facility through Superstorm Sandy, established intergovernmental partnerships with federal and municipal agencies, and led the facility through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to coming to Essex County, he had 30 years of industry experience with the N.J. Department of Corrections. His wealth of knowledge and experience proved beneficial to the county. Ortiz was a career N.J. Department of Corrections employee who worked his way up the ranks from a corrections officer recruit to administrator. Prior to Essex County, Ortiz was the administrator at East Jersey State Prison, a maximum-security prison, where he was responsible for 800 employees, 2,000 inmates and a budget of about $60 million. He also was responsible for establishing policy, procedures and rehabilitative programs.
He is a member of the American Polygraph Association and American Correctional Association, board of trustees member with the Middle Atlantic State Correctional Association and board member with the Mercer County Hispanic Association. Ortiz attended Caldwell College, now University, School of Criminal Justice. He attended Trenton State College, now The College of New Jersey, and received certification as a public manager from Rutgers University. He is a resident of Avenel.
“I am humbled and honored to receive this award; you have no idea how much receiving this award means to me. I want to thank the county executive for giving me the opportunity to have a leadership role in the facility for the last 16 years,” Ortiz said.
Cruz is a seasoned professional with 26 years of experience working for members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Working in Payne’s office, Cruz’s responsibilities include serving as liaison for constituents to resolve issues with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Internal Revenue Service, Welfare and SNAP; organizing mobile offices in municipalities and opportunities to partner with Essex County and other agencies; and training new employees and assigning all casework for the Newark, Jersey City and Hillside offices. She also created Payne’s “Identity Theft Presentation” to protect senior citizens from becoming victims of identity theft. From 1996 to 2012, Cruz was special assistant to the late U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Sr.
Serving on the Essex County board of trustees is a full-circle moment for her, as she is a May 2008 graduate of the institution. In this role, she is a member of the personnel and community relations committees, and chairperson of the policy and governance committee. Cruz is a New Jersey Democratic State Committee member, executive committee member of the Essex County Democratic Committee and former board member of Newark Day Center.
“I am proud and humbled to be chosen to receive this honor. I really do enjoy being able to help constituents and I feel great pride to serve as a board member at the college and give back to the community,” Cruz said.