Former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer is mulling a challenge to five-term Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes for the Democratic nomination next year.
Palmer is planning to announce an exploratory committee on Monday, the same day Hughes plans to announce his re-election bid at Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo’s IBEW Local 269 union hall in Lawrenceville.
“I am considering running for county executive,” Palmer told the New Jersey Globe. “I think it’s time for a change. Brian is a friend, but he’s been there long enough.”
Palmer said he’d been approached by a number of Democratic leaders urging him to enter the race and has begun making calls to gauge support for his candidacy.
“This is America. Anyone is allowed to do anything,” Hughes said. “Maybe he can make a case for himself on why he is a better candidate, but he’s going to have to do that.”
Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton) is also moving toward a run for county executive.
“He is planning to announce after the Trenton runoff,” a source close to Benson told the New Jersey Globe. “He will be announcing he is running for the seat with a strong list of supporters and a campaign team to take him through not only a successful convention but a primary as well if needed.”
Two years ago, Mercer County Democrats changed their convention rules to force incumbents to compete at their open convention to win the organization line. In 2021, convention delegates tossed Ann M. Cannon, a nine-term incumbent from the organization line.
The convention could be held as early as February 2023.
Mercer County Democrats have been moving toward a split for the last few years, with some privately pushing for Hughes to retire after twenty years in the post.
Palmer declined to say if he would run in a primary if he didn’t win the convention, noting that he’s just testing the waters and hasn’t made a final decision.
Hughes touted his accomplishments over his five terms and said there is more he’d like to accomplish.
“I’ve done a good job for nineteen years,” he said. “I preserved a lot of open space. I fixed a lot of roads. We’ve got a great park system. We’ve received FAA approval to expand their airport and build electric car stations.”
But Palmer said he wants to bring transformational projects to Mercer County, as other counties have done.
“I want to bring economic development to Mercer County,” Palmer said. “I think Brian has done the best he could, but it’s time to go in a different direction.”
Hughes, 66, served as a freeholder before running for county executive in 2003. He defeated Cathy DiCostanzo, the county clerk, by a 49%-47% margin after Republican Robert Prunetti declined to seek re-election. He has won re-election four times with increasingly large pluralities, taking 70% of the vote in 2019. His late father, Richard J. Hughes, served two terms as governor and later became chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The 71-year-old Palmer spent 20 years as Trenton’s mayor, serving from 1990 to 2010 after spending a decade on the Board of Freeholders. He served a stint as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and played a leading role in the founding of Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
This story was updated at 8:29 PM