Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff, a government finance expert who spent more than five years as New Jersey State Treasurer under Gov. Chris Christie, is considering a bid for Mercer County Executive.
With Mercer County Democrats on the verge of a full-blown civil war, Sidamon-Eristoff has been meeting with current and former Republican leaders and testing the waters for a possible 2023 bid.
“I’ve been talking to a bunch of people trying to learn as much as I can,” Sidamon-Eristoff said. “I haven’t decided. I’m still in a due diligence phase.”
If the fledgling fight between five-term incumbent Brian Hughes and Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton) continues through the June Democratic primary, Sidamon-Eristoff could potentially assemble a coalition between Republicans and the losing side of a fractured Democratic party.
The 59-year-old Sidamon-Eristoff moved to Princeton to join the Christie administration in 2010 after career in New York politics. He was elected to the New York City Council in 1993 after Carolyn Maloney was elected to Congress. He served as New York City’s Finance Commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then as Gov. George Pataki’s state Commissioner of Taxation and Finance.
Mercer County Republicans, who have not won a countywide race in 22 years, might be willing to overlook Sidamon-Eristoff’s endorsement of Joe Biden for president in 2020 – and his role as New Jersey state campaign chairman for Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016 – in order to recruit a credible candidate with an ability to raise money.
Sidamon-Eristoff doesn’t think his opposition to Donald Trump will hurt him if he seeks local office.
“People are beginning to look toward the future,” he said. “They’re not fighting over the last election. They want to win.”
Instead, Sidamon-Eristoff believes, voter will be more interested in issues like fiscal accountability and transparency.
Hughes, 66, has been county executive for 20 years and now faces a fight to become the Democratic nominee against the 47-year-old Benson, who thinks it’s time to move beyond the status quo.
Benson launched his campaign on Monday with an endorsement from former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer. Hughes countered with endorsements from Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton), and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton). But Hughes’ endorsement roster included just two of seven Democratic county commissioners – one of whom leaves office in eighteen days.
Still, Hughes is expected to have support from Mercer County building trades unions. DeAngelo is the president of the Mercer/Burlington Counties Building Trades and vice president of the Mercer County Central Labor Council and when Hughes announced his re-election bid last month, he did it from IBEW Local 269, DeAngelo’s union hall.
Republicans held the county executive post from 1980 until 2003, when Hughes, then a Mercer County freeholder and the son of former Gov. Richard J. Hughes, won the seat by 1,673 votes, 49%-47%, against Mercer County Clerk Cathy DiCostanzo.
DiCostanzo, the last Republican to win countywide in Mercer, lost her bid for re-election to a third term in 2005. Democrat Paula Sollami Covello unseated her by 237 votes, 50.1% to 49.9%.
Joe Biden won Mercer County by 40 points in 2020 and Gov Phil Murphy by 34 points in 2021. Democratic county commissioners won by a 2-1 margin this year. In his 2019 re-election bid, Hughes defeated Republican Lisa Wu by 39 points.
Still, Republicans have won in more Democratic counties than Mercer when Democrats were split. After a bruising Democratic primary that was decided by 17 votes in August after a recount and court hearing, Republican Jim Treffinger was able to win election as the Essex County Executive.
Sidamon-Eristoff’s grandfather, Prince Simon Sidamon-Eristoff, emigrated from the Republic of Georgia in the 1920s after the Soviet Russian invasion. His late father was a highly-respected Regional Administrator of the of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush.
In 2016, Sidamon-Eristoff contributed to the presidential campaigns of Christie, Pataki and John Kasich before endorsing Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico.
Other former cabinet members have gone on to run for local office: Heather Howard, who was Gov. Jon Corzine’s Commissioner of Health, later served as a Princeton councilwoman; and Tom Kean’s State Treasurer, Feather O’Connor, served one term as a Cranbury councilwoman in the 1990s. Hal Wirths, Christie’s labor commissioner, was elected to the State Assembly in 2017.