Framing himself as a political outsider, Paul Perez will run on his opponent’s record in addition to his own in his quest for Trenton’s mayoralty.
Perez, a former executive at the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the National Science Foundation, made clear that the Trenton political machine, which he said has failed city over the last fifteen-or-so years, would be a key target during his campaign. Perez, who placed led the pack in the first round of voting on Tuesday, took particular aim at Mercer County’s role in the race.
“The people are smarter than they’re being given credit for. I think that it was outrageous that Brian Hughes comes out in the news and says, ‘Oh that doesn’t matter. Walker is never going to run again. Reed is going to be the next mayor because we’re going to coalesce around him and he will win,’” Perez said. “That’s like saying to the voters ‘You don’t count because we make the decisions for you.’”
Hughes, the Mercer County Executive, first endorsed Mercer County Deputy Clerk Walker Worthy. After Worthy was knocked out of the race with a third-place finish that secured 1,637 votes, Hughes came out in support of Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, the other runoff candidate.
But both candidates are wary of the value of endorsements in a city known for political apathy and low voter turnout, which Perez says has been caused by years of neglect and ineptitude in the city government.
Perez wouldn’t share his plans to combat those conditions and secure a win in June, saying only that he would do more of the same and attempt to expand his coalition
“I can’t tell you that,” Perez said when asked about what portions of his campaign apparatus he’d seek to reinforce. “We have a little secret sauce that we need to spice up a little bit that we need to ensure we get the correct turnout.”
Here too, the answer may be retail campaigning – that’s what Gusciora said he’d do in preparation for the next round of voting, but the 12-term assemblyman might have a leg up in that regard.
Dave Parano, a veteran political operative that ran Gov. Phil Murphy’s Get Out the Vote operation in 2017’s primary, is on Gusciora’s side, and his operation could be what cut Perez’s victory margin down to below the candidate’s expectations.
Perez’s campaign expected to lead the pack by 900 votes, but instead came up only 700 ahead of Gusciora a relatively insignificant difference given the vote totals – 2,546 for Perez and 1,833 for Gusciora – but it could be an indication of confounding factors in the race that a candidate with a robust operation could take advantage of.
“Bringing big names and bringing big endorsements and all of that in the City of Trenton, in its current state, means absolutely nothing,” Perez said. “so bringing in hired guns in the City of Trenton is really a waste of money.”
Like Gusciora, Perez has also entered into talks with the field of former candidates that fell short of the runoff on Tuesday. While he had scant details to share in that regard, he said nothing formal has come from those conversations, but it’s not clear how much value those candidates can provide given both remaining candidates’ recent disdain for endorsements.
This election, like any, will be decided by the voters, and if the first round of voting was any indication, they might favor Perez, who lost to retiring Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson in last cycle’s runoff. Expect to see jabs thrown at Gusciora’s admittedly lengthy tenure in the statehouse and the rewards it’s brought the city.
“Hats off to the assemblyman, who’s had policies and practices that he’s been pushing for 20 years, but it’s a record of failure, and you can see the city, and people see that,” Perez said. “So, they understand what I’m saying. They hear the experience in my words. They see it in the work that I do, and that’s the reason why I’m going to win.”