One of the most interesting mayoral races in the state this year is in Flemington, where a former Republican state senator is seeking to resurrect her political career against a Democratic mayor who touts her success in revitalizing Main Street businesses in this small (pop. 4,581) but prestigious town still known as the site of the 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping trial.
Betsy Driver was elected to the borough council in 2017 and unseated one-term Republican Mayor Phil Greinier by 26 votes, 51%-49%. She faces Marcia Karrow, a gregarious campaigner and centrist Republican who lost her Senate seat in the 2009 primary.
Democrats have a 5-1 majority on the borough council, but three of their seats are up this year, making this a control election.
The conventional wisdom seems to be that if Karrow can’t win, it will be unlikely that Flemington will return to the Republican fold anytime soon.
Once a Republican stronghold, Flemington It has been Democratic leaning in recent years and had a Democratic mayor, Dr. Austin Kutscher, from 1994 to 2005. The borough had not backed a GOP presidential candidate since 1988, but Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) carried Flemington five times.
Gov. Phil Murphy won the borough by five percentage points and State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) carried it by four points in 2021. Republican Vincent Panico came within 18 votes of carrying Flemington against the winner, Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Montgomery).
In 2020, Joe Biden outpolled Donald Trump by 15 points in Flemington, and Tom Malinowski carried it by 10 points against Tom Kean, Jr.
Lance won Flemington in 2016 with 54% of the vote – Hillary Clinton won it with 51% — but by the 2018 Democratic wave, Malinowski edged out Lance by a 54%-46% margin.
Karrow, 63, grew up in Flemington and has deep roots there: her father, Sol Karrow, was a councilman from 1963 to 1980 and was the second generation owner of a well-known men’s haberdashery there. Her mother, Adele, served on the Flemington-Raritan Board of Education.
She began her political career in Raritan Township in 1993, winning a seat on the township committee and later serving as mayor. Karrow became the first woman to win a seat on Hunterdon County Board of Freeholders in 1998 and went to the State Assembly in 2005.
After Lance took his seat in Congress in 2008, Karrow won a special election convention for the vacant State Senate seat, 195 to 143, against Assemblyman Michael Doherty (R-Oxford).
But five months, Doherty defeated Karrow in the GOP primary by 997 votes, 52%-48%, and moved up to the Senate in November. Gov. Chris Christie named her as the executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission in 2010.
The last time Karrow ran in Flemington, in a 2007 race for State Assembly, she outpolled Doherty by 47 votes and Democrat Peter Maurer by 61 votes.
The 58-year-old Driver took a different route to public office. Born in Buffalo, she was a journalist and CBS News producer and later ran an advocacy group for intersex people. She became the first intersex person to win public office in the United States.
The demographics of Flemington has changed over the last two decades, and while it remains 78% white, new residents increasingly identify with Democratic candidates. Democrats make up about 36% of registered voters, while 32% are Republicans and 30% are unaffiliated.
“Young families are moving into town who can work from home instead of commuting to New York City,” Driver said. “It’s a great place to live.”
Driver says she’s focused on downtown revitalization, putting properties back on the tax rolls and outing the revitalization of the Union Hotel back on track.
“I hope we can bring in more people and spur Main Street redevelopment,” she said.
In the council race, Councilman Jeremy Long and Susan Engelhardt face Republicans Milissa Swingle and James Weintraub for three-year terms — incumbent Jess Hand is not running — and Tony Parker, who was appointed earlier this year, faces Bryan Cimino in a race for a two-year unexpired term.
Correction: an earlier version of this story listed Donald Eckel and Jess Hand as candidates. They have both withdrawn.