Trenton voters will return to the polls on June 12 to elect a new mayor after Tuesday’s election narrowed the field down to two candidates.
Businessman Paul Perez will face twelve-term Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, the top vote-getters in a field of seven candidates who entered the race after Mayor Eric Jackson decided not to seek a second term.
Perez finished first with 2,546 votes (29%), with Gusciora edging out Deputy County Clerk Walker Worthy by 196 votes to secure the second runoff slot. Gusciora, a twelve-term Assemblyman, received 1,833 votes (21%); Worthy got 1,637 votes (19%). Voter turnout was about 22%.
The race for mayor of the state’s struggling capital city now features a contest between a Hispanic businessman and a gay, white veteran legislator in a city where more than 50% of the population is Black.
Five Black candidates ran for mayor: Worthy; activist Darren “Freedom” Green (15%); city councilmen Duncan Harrison (8%) and Alex Bethea (6%); and former city councilwoman Annette Horton-Lartigue (3%).
In 2014, Jackson led Perez in the May election by a 30%-21% margin, with Worth (15%) finishing third in a six-candidate field. Jackson won the runoff by a 56%-44% margin.
Perez received 2,134 votes four years ago, just 412 less than he won on Tuesday.
Worthy had the backing of Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and former Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer. Gusciora and Perez will now compete for that support, along with Trenton political legend Bill Watson, who backed councilman Duncan Harrison.
There is some incentive for key Democrats to back Gusciora: if he wins, he’ll be forced to resign his State Assembly seat before taking office in June. Party leaders would decide who replaces Gusciora in the Assembly.
CITY COUNCIL RACES
None of the four ward council candidates reached the 50% mark, pushing those races into a June 12 runoff as well.
In the West Ward, two-term incumbent Zachary Chester, the council president, barely made it to the runoff. Robin Vaughn was the top vote-getter with 39%, and Chester (26%) edged out Dr. Shirley Gaines for the runoff slot by just ten votes.
Veteran North Ward councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson finished with 47% of the vote and will face Algernon Ward (34%) in the runoff. Eboni Love finished third with 20%.
The East Ward seat opened earlier this year when Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson was elected to the State Assembly. Taiwanda Terry-Wilson (22%) will face Joseph Harrison (20%) in the runoff. Harrison forced Reynolds-Jackson into a runoff four years ago.
In the South Ward, three-term councilman George Muschal won 47%. He’ll now face Damian Malave (31%) in the runoff. Jenna Kettenburg finished third with 23%. The 69-year-old Muschal served as mayor briefly in 2014 after Tony Mack’s criminal conviction.
The race for four At-Large seats is not yet decided. The City Clerk will determine, likely on Wednesday, how many votes are needed based on the total votes cast in the At-Large race to avoid a runoff. It is approximately based on the total number of votes cast for all candidates, divided by twice the number of seats, plus one.
The number is around 2,430, which could mean that Kathy McBride (3,353) has won a city council seat. Jerrell Blakely finished second with 2,721 votes, followed by Santiago Rodriguez (2,352), Rachel Cogsville-Lattimer (2,347), Elvin Montero (2,262) and Nathanial McCray (1,538).
All three At-Large seats are open. They had been filled by Harrison and Bethea, who ran for mayor, and by Phyllis Holly-Ward, who did not seek re-election.