The backdrop of the June 12 runoff for mayor of Trenton is the musical chairs that would surround a Reed Gusciora victory. Gusciora would need to give up his 15th district Assembly seat to take office as mayor on July 1. There is no shortage of Mercer County Democrats who want Gusciora to win if for no other reason than to put the seat he’s held since 1995.
Gusciora is in a great position: he derives much benefit from the ambitions of other would-be legislators, but since he doesn’t control the county committee, he can’t promise anyone the seat. About all Gusciora can do to help someone get to the Assembly is to get elected mayor.
This would be the second 15th district Assembly seat to open this year. In February, Trenton City Councilwoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson won the seat vacated by Elizabeth Muoio to become State Treasurer. Reynolds-Jackson, who is also the Mercer County Democratic Chairman, defeated Mercer County Freeholder Anthony Verrelli by a vote of 94-77.
Verrelli would be the likely front-runner if there is a special election in July; sources say that Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes is expected to support Verrelli, a labor leader with Carpenters Local 254. One possible deal, according to a Mercer Democratic insider, is that Verrelli would go to the Assembly and then a Black Democrat from Trenton would get Verrelli’s freeholder seat. But another source says that a list of Democrats interested in Verrelli’s freeholder seat that is informally maintained by Hughes has as many as 40 names.
West Windsor Councilwoman Ayesha Hamilton briefly sought Muoio’s Assembly seat earlier this year but withdrew prior to the voting. Sources say has no plans to run for the seat if Gusciora gives it up. Freeholder Samuel Frisby had been interested in running but did not. He could still get in the race.
There has been some talk that Trenton Democratic insider Bill Watson, the brother of Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, wants Trenton councilman Duncan Harrison to get the Assembly seat. Harrison, 33, won just 8% of the vote in the May 8 mayoral election. There was a scenario discussed where Harrison would find his way onto the Board of Freeholders, but that now seems less likely. A source says that Hughes didn’t meet Harrison until about three weeks ago – “not sure where he’s been for the last four years” – and that with a long list of aspirants, the Verrelli seat is unlikely to go to Harrison.
Frisby is the only Black member of the all-Democratic Board of Freeholders, which also has a 5-2 male majority. That could affect who Democrats pick to replace Verrelli, if it gets that far.
Trenton is makes up about one-third of the district, and accounts for 92 of the 278 county committee seats – if all the seats are filled. Ewing (56), Lawrence (42), West Windsor (32) and Hopewell Township (24) also have large blocks of votes. Pennington has six votes and Hopewell has four; the three towns in the Hunterdon County portion of the district – East Amwell, Lambertville and West Amwell – combine for 22 votes.
Also in the mix is the race for Mercer County Democratic Chairman. Jackson-Reynolds told the New Jersey Globe today that she is planning to run for re-election, but sources say that longtime East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov is making testing-the-waters phone calls to gauge her support for the post. It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that Hughes will “sit down and talk to Verlina real soon.” The county chair election is set for the week after the June 5 primary.
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Congratulations to Wayne Witherspoon, who is being honored this week by the New Jersey National Action Network as an Icon & Legend. He’s among the honorees at a dinner where Rev. Al Sharpton will be the keynote speaker. And congratulations to Nathan Rudy, who left his job as executive director of the Somerset County Democrats to become the new senior public information officer of New Jersey Transit.