March 15, 2022
Following a screening process culminating tonight, the New Brunswick Democratic Organization (NBDO) has named two additional council candidates for its slate: Petra Gaskins and Manuel Castaneda.
These political newcomers will join the established team of Mayor Jim Cahill and Councilmembers Kevin Egan and Rebecca Escobar, all running for re-election to four-year terms.
This year, the City Council will be expanding from five seats to seven seats. Gaskins will seek a seat with a four-year term; Castaneda is running for a seat with an initial two-year term, with four-year terms thereafter, according to a press release.
NBDO Chairman T.K. Shamy said the screening process identified many strong candidates. But Castaneda and Gaskins offered an impressive vision of the city’s future that is aligned with many of the long-term goals and objectives of the New Brunswick Democrats.
“We couldn’t be more pleased to welcome Petra and Manuel to our team,” Cahill said. “Both have superb credentials, are engaged in our community and have a true desire to serve the people. I appreciate the work of T.K. and the entire Organization for conducting a screening process with such exceptional results.”
Gaskins, who serves as Chief of Staff for State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-16th Dist.), focuses on engaging with the community and ensuring proposed legislation is relevant and impactful to all constituents. Before joining the senator’s office, Gaskins served as Outreach Director to Rep. Bonne Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.), as part of various roles over a six-year period.
In addition, the council candidate served as an intergovernmental affairs aide to Gov. Phil Murphy and was chapter director of the New Leaders Council, a national organization that develops, connects and uplifts inclusive, cross-sector leaders. Gaskins also serves as chair of the Middlesex County Young Democrats Black Caucus.
In addition, Gaskins is studying for her graduate degree in Business and Science at Rutgers University. She earned her undergraduate degree in politics and international relations at Rider University, in which she studied in Xi’an and Shanghai China. She speaks English, Chinese and Spanish.
Castaneda has a graduate degree in health law from Loyola School of Law-Chicago and serves as Director of Community Health at New Brunswick Tomorrow, a non-profit social services organization. Conversant in both English and Spanish, he has launched a number of successful community-based health initiatives, such as the “Live Well Vivir Bien” campaign and the New Brunswick Healthy Housing Collaborative.
The council candidate, a graduate of Rutgers University, is widely known in New Brunswick for building bridges between community agencies and city stakeholders to address local health priorities, maximizing the many resources that already exist. Prior to joining New Brunswick Tomorrow in 2015, Castaneda served seven years as a case manager at the Rutgers University- Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Castaneda also offers an extensive resume of civic service. He has been a member of the New Brunswick Planning Board since April 2017 and was named chair in January. He also serves as executive chair of the New Brunswick Community Food Alliance since 2017, the lead director of the New Brunswick Healthy Housing Collaborative since October 2016 and co-lead facilitator of Healthier New Brunswick since 2015.
The five NBDO candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 7 primary.