This story was updated with comment from Mironov at 12:26 p.m.
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and Mercer County Democratic Chairwoman Janice Mironov are at odds over how to handle this year’s election for the chair’s seat.
Hughes, who has led the county’s executive branch since 2004, wants the convention to select a chair delayed because of COVID-19. Mironov, he said, has resisted.
“I felt early on that we should put this convention off for a year, and I told the chair that,” Hughes told the New Jersey Globe. “At the time and since, she has not felt that’s a worthwhile suggestion.”
He urged a delay in a letter sent last week to the county’s Democratic leaders, warning that holding an in-person convention would endanger the health of county committee members and could run afoul of gathering limits imposed to blunt the spread of the virus.
Under Hughes’ plan, Mironov’s current term would be extended until 2021, with a convention for her seat delayed until then.
“My recommendation will cost Democrats nothing,” Hughes said in the letter. “What it will give Democrats is peace of mind as we avoid opportunities to spread the COVID-19 virus and allow the current leadership to continue serving until next year.”
Mironov isn’t on board. The chairwoman is planning a convention for the end of July — Hughes said it was slated for July 27 or 28, though the Mercer County Democratic Committee does not list a reorganization on its online calendar. Currently, the plan is to hold the reorganization electronically, though Mironov said the details are still being ironed out.
In any case, Mercer Democrats may see themselves in court if they move to postpone the convention. In March, progressives sued Democratic organizations in Cape May and Atlantic Counties over an attempt to delay County Committee elections. The court sided with the progressives in that case, ruling the Democratic organizations could not delay those races.
“Our bylaws require a reorganization every two years in the even year, so in order to not proceed in accordance with title 19 and our bylaws, we would actually have to convene a convention to change the bylaws,” Mironov said. “It just seems like it makes sense to go ahead and hold the reorganization meeting, and that does seem to be the overwhelming sentiment in Mercer County.”
The chairwoman said many Democrats in the county disliked the idea of postponing elections, partly because they want to avoid setting a precedent.
“Even in these difficult times, Democracy and elections in our country need to go forward, and it’s not a perfect world, but we need to find the best ways that we can do it and do it safely,” she said.
On Monday, she sent a letter to Mercer’s Democratic leaders touting a lengthy list of endorsements that includes all seven of the county’s freeholders and Sheriff Jack Kemler.
County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covella and Surrogate Diane Gerofsky were absent from the chairwoman’s list of countywide backers, as was Hughes, who said Mironov did not seek his support for the letter.
“She didn’t send it to me,” he told the Globe.
Despite the absence, Hughes insisted his letter was not a sign that his support for the longtime chairwoman had ebbed.
“No, no, no. You shouldn’t take that letter — but I wish she would say when the convention’s going to be, how it’s going to be formed, what the opportunities are,” he said when asked if his bid to delay the convention was a move to oust the incumbent. “I know some folks that are interested in the county chair’s seat and have been holding off their interest waiting to find out when the convention is and how it’s going to be held.”
Mironov’s letter also lists five of Mercer County’s eight Democratic legislators as supporters.
Assemblymen Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton), Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) and Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell) have signed onto Mironov’s re-election.
Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton), State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrenceville), and State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) weren’t included on the chairwoman’s list of backers.
She won the backing of Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and all but one of the borough’s council members — Councilman Dwaine Williamson’s name was left off the letter.
Top officials in newly-Democratic Hamilton, Lawrence Township, Hopewell Township, Hightstown, Ewing and East Windsor, where Mironov is longtime mayor, are backing the chair’s re-election, and she has the support of Democratic municipal chairs in Pennington and Robbinsville.
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora and the rest of the capital city’s council members didn’t make the list.
“I am proud of the significant progress we have made together. I am especially proud of the great strides we have made in creating more openness, more outreach and inclusion, and more energy,” Mironov said in the letter. “This year, more than ever in our lifetimes, we need to move forward together and with our eye on the key election goals locally and for our Nation.”
Apart from a rough timeframe, little is known about this year’s reorganization in Mercer. The county was one of a relatively small number that held elections for county committee this year, a fact that makes delaying an election for chair more difficult.
Hughes said he believed an electronic convention fell short of being a perfect fix.
“I know some county committee people that don’t have internet access, and we want to do it virtually,” he said. “If you weren’t going to have an in-person convention, having a Zoom convention now is really going to leave some people out that might want to make comments at the convention or might want to have a speaking role or might want to nominate somebody else or do whatever you do at a live convention. All those things are going to be lost.”