The election for Mercer County Democratic Chair will take place on July 28 as scheduled after the county clerk’s office confirmed that the results of the July 7 primary election will be certified by the end of today.
Incumbent Janice Mironov faces a challenge for a second term from Ewing Councilman David Schroth, who entered the race last week.
The last minute fight has sent shock waves through the county and has forced many top Democrats to take sides in what has increasingly become a vicious battle.
There was talk of a split between Mironov and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes late last year, but the grumblings diminished by March when New Jersey was hit by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
The genesis of the fight is something Mironov’s supporters and detractors agree on.
At some point last year, Mironov decided that Trenton’s share of the party spoils was more than the city was entitled to. Mironov said that party funds would be spent in municipalities with local elections and not as much in Trenton, where primary and general voter turnout has declined and where municipal races are non-partisan.
Mironov pulled a Trenton appointment from the party’s executive committee and another from the county Board of Elections.
The numbers appear to favor another term for Mironov, the longtime mayor of East Windsor, was elected county chair in 2018 after Assemblywoman Verlina Jackson-Reynolds (D-Trenton) declined to seek re-election.
In a bid to avoid a vote, Hughes had called for a postponement of a county chair election until June 2021.
“My recommendation will cost Democrats nothing,” Hughes said in the letter to party leaders. “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 responded by releasing endorsements from a majority of the county’s elected officials. She has the backing of all seven Mercer County freeholders, Sheriff Jack Kemler, State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro), and five democratic assemblymen.
She also has the backing of Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, and top Democrats in Hamilton, Lawrence Township, Hopewell Township, Hightstown, Ewing and East Windsor, Pennington and Robbinsville.
In addition to Hughes, Schroth has the support of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann, Hopewell Borough Mayor Paul Anzano, and Reynolds-Jackson.
So far, Steinmann has been the only Mironov supporter to flip.
This week’s skirmish could be a precursor to upcoming battles in heavily-Democratic Mercer County – and a challenge to the influence of Hughes, who was elected county executive in 2003.
There is speculation that two freeholders up for re-election next year might be ready to retire: Ann Cannon (D-East Windsor), a nine-term incumbent; and Pasquale “Pat” Colavita (D-Lawrence), who is in his 17th year on the freeholder board.
Less likely, but possible, is a 2021 primary challenge to seven-term State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), a fiercely independent 79-year-old who has been a little less progressive than the legislative district she has represented since winning a State Assembly seat in 1993.
It’s not clear whether Mironov would seek to penalize Turner for going against her if she wins re-election. And it’s not clear that Turner could be beaten in a primary.
The other prize being broadly eyed by Mercer Democrats is county executive in 2023 when Hughes, 64, is widely expected retire.
Several of the Democrats most often short-listed as his successor are backing Mironov: Freeholders Samuel Frisby (D-Trenton) and John Cimino (D-Hamilton); and Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton). Aaron T. Watson, the deputy county administrator and he congresswoman’s brother, is also viewed as a potential replacement for Hughes.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Mironov had opposed Gov. Phil Murphy’s nomination of Nathaniel Walker, a Trenton Democrat, as the Mercer County Superintendent of Elections. The nomination was made before she became county chair.