Terrance Stokes, a football official and first-time candidate from Ewing, defeated nine-term incumbent Ann Cannon in a race for the Democratic organization line for Mercer County Commissioner.
On the third ballot, Stokes beat Cannon by 20 votes, 201-181, 52.6% to 43.4%.
Stokes will now run on the organization line with incumbent Samuel Frisby and Hopewell Township Committeewoman Kristin McLaughlin, a former mayor.
Cannon, a 27-year incumbent, lost after a group of reformers voted to force two incumbent county commissioners into a six-way race for three seats rather than automatically approve their renomination.
“Mercer Democrats have long proudly claimed to be the most open and inclusive county Democratic organization in the state,” said Jeff Laurenti, a longtime Trenton Democratic leader and reformer. “Our long-established Rules require a secret ballot for all offices. They make no mention of ‘incumbents.’ They make no provision for fencing off incumbents from having to compete on an equal basis with challengers.”
Stokes is a University of Pennsylvania graduate who works for the Trenton Board of Education. He’s been involved in community and Democratic activities for years, but until 2021 has declined to run for office.
On the second ballot, Cannon led Stokes, by a vote of 170-146, 43.7% to 37.5%. Yan Mei Wang finished third with 73 votes and is now dropped from the balloting.
Frisby won a first-ballot victory with 292 votes, followed by McLaughlin with 225.
Cannon finished third with 185 votes, followed by Stokes (169), Wang (145), and Lawrence Township Committeeman and former mayor Michael Powers.
Powers had been dropped from the second ballot.
“Incumbents have many advantages already. They don’t need to be protected from accountability,” Laurenti said. “Yes, it means you’ll have to hear a brief nominating speech for the handful of incumbents and their own self-justifications. But that’s what democracy is all about.”
Six candidates had initially sought the open seat of Commissioner Pat Colavita, Jr., who is not seeking re-election after serving 18 years in county office.
Two others — Lance Lopez, the former president of the state Corrections Officers PBA Local 105 and Assistant Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Tennille McCoy of Hamilton – had withdrawn from the race.
For the 76-year-old Colavita, his retirement ends a career that began with his election to the Lawrence Board of Education in 1984. He served as mayor of Lawrence before winning a freeholder seat in 2003. He took over for Brian Hughes, who was elected County Executive that year.
Cannon served as an East Windsor councilwoman before her election to what was then the Board of Freeholders in 1994.
Gov. Phil Murphy was awarded the organization line in his bid for re-election, as where incumbent legislators in the 14th and 15th districts.