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Assemblyman Dan Benson. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Benson unveils major list of endorsements for Mercer County Executive

Local support will be critical to securing victory at county convention

By Joey Fox, December 14 2022 10:45 am

Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton)’s fledgling campaign for Mercer County Executive picked up a huge number of endorsements today ranging from county commissioners to municipal chairs, putting Benson in a strong position in the Democratic primary against five-term incumbent County Executive Brian Hughes.

Among Benson’s endorsees are seven current or incoming countywide officials – Sheriff Jack Kemler and Commissioners John Cimino, Sam Frisby, Cathleen Lewis, Kristin McLaughlin, Nina Melker, and Lucylle Walter – as well as six mayors, nine municipal Democratic chairpeople, and dozens of councilmembers spread across Mercer County’s 12 municipalities.

“I’m running for Mercer County Executive to move our county forward and lead an effective administration that promotes new ideas and thoughtful innovation,” Benson said of his campaign, which he officially launched today after a soft kickoff on Monday. “With real leadership, we can seize these opportunities and bring about a county government that works for all of us.”

Hughes unveiled his own list of initial endorsements on Monday, among them Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) and three state legislators: State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton), and Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), who is Benson’s running mate in the 14th legislative district. County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello, County Commissioner Terrance Stokes, and outgoing County Commissioner Andrew Koontz are also in Hughes’ corner.

But while some of Mercer County’s highest-profile politicians are backing Hughes, the depth and breadth of Benson’s support will be tough to match at the county Democratic convention.

Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin and three of the township’s five councilmembers – one of whom is also the municipal Democratic chairman – endorsed Benson, a former Hamilton councilman himself. Their endorsements are an indication that the largest town in the county will mostly back its hometown legislator at the county convention. 

Notably, Plumbers Local 9 business manager Michael Maloney is also on Benson’s list of Hamilton endorsers. DeAngelo, who has a frosty relationship with Benson, is the president of the Mercer/Burlington Counties Building Trades Council, but Maloney’s support for Benson indicates that organized labor won’t be uniformly behind Hughes.

In Hughes’ hometown of Princeton, Benson ran the table, getting endorsements from the mayor, all six councilmembers, the municipal Democratic chairman, and the head of the local Democratic club. Benson also got significant support in Lawrence and Ewing, the political bases of Turner and Watson Coleman, respectively.

Though he announced his campaign on Monday alongside former Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer (who briefly considered running for county executive himself), Benson’s support in the capital city was comparatively scant. City Councilwoman-elect Teska Frisby, the daughter-in-law of Benson campaign chair Jeannine Frisby LaRue, is backing Benson, but Mayor Reed Gusciora and most other local officials are staying neutral for now.

In addition to Gusciora, there are a few other prominent Mercer County Democratic politicians who are evidently still unclaimed, including Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell), Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann, and East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, who is also the chairwoman of the county Democratic organization.

Mironov’s neutrality shouldn’t be overinterpreted, however. Six councilmembers and the township’s Democratic municipal vice-chair have all gotten behind Benson, something they would not have done without Mironov’s approval.

Benson has promised to wage an off-the-line bid if he were to lose the convention; it’s not clear whether Hughes would do the same. Thanks to a provision in the Mercer Democrats’ bylaws, if a candidate clears 40% support at the Mercer Democratic convention, they can appear in the organization column even without getting the organization slogan.

Whoever ends up winning the nomination may face a more prominent Republican foe than Mercer Democrats are used to: Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a former state treasurer who once served on the New York City Council. Mercer County is heavily Democratic, but if Sidamon-Eristoff chooses to enter the race, he could try to leverage the split in local Democrats to his advantage.

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