Democrats eyeing appointment to Mercer County freeholder seat

The soon-to-be vacant seat of Mercer County Freeholder Anthony S. Verrelli is being eyed by Democrats from around Mercer County, now that Verrelli is becoming a state assemblyman.

Talk within party circles is rampant about who wants to climb the political ladder in a county where Democrats control all the levers of power.

Ethnic, gender and even geographic factors could come into play in determining who gets selected. There has been speculation Democrats might push to have a Latino freeholder or for Trenton to have a second representative on the board, with Freeholder Samuel T. Frisby Sr. the only member so far from the capital city.

One Democrat said this week there is a large pool of Democrats who would be interested in running for the seat, which Verrelli had not resigned from as of Aug. 2.

“I think it’s going to be a wide open race,” Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said on Aug. 1. “We are going to see a lot of people come out looking to fill the seat.”

Hughes said he thought as many as 10 to 20 people want to run, with about 10 of those individuals considered “viable” candidates.

“There’s an expectation there will be a lot of people calling around to gauge support,” Freeholder Andrew Koontz said on Aug. 1.

Ewing Councilwoman Jennifer Keyes-Maloney and Pennington Mayor Anthony Persichilli are among those saying they are considering seeking the seat. Both said they would make up their minds sooner rather than later.

“I’m just having the conversations with my family as well as, in the coming days, the different town leaders,” Keyes-Maloney said on Aug. 1.

If Keyes-Maloney were to be the candidate, she would seek to join a seven-member board with two women and five men.

“I want to see who else is interested,” Persichilli said on Aug. 1. “There’s some decent people out there.”

Other Democrats whose names had been floated as possible candidates, like West Windsor Councilwoman Ayesha Hamilton, said they would not be running.

“I’m not going to be involved in this race,” Hamilton said on Aug. 1.

While Hamilton is not interested in the freeholder position, someone else from West Windsor said he is.

Kamal Khanna, a former West Windsor councilman who spent four-and-a-half years on the governing body of that town, said on Aug. 1 that he is a candidate for the freeholder seat.

“I have been a councilman before and I think this is a natural next step that I’d like to get into,” Khanna said.

Khanna said he has been active in Democratic politics, both at the local and county levels, and sits on the Mercer County Improvement Authority. He said that in addition to being the first Indian-American freeholder, he would be the first member of county government from West Windsor, a community he said has been “neglected” by the “county people.”

Roberto Hernandez, a Hamilton Township resident who is the president of the Mercer County Latino Democratic Caucus, said on Aug. 1 that he is considering running. He said he hopes to make up his mind by the middle of next week.

“I am thinking about it, but I want to take this to the community first,” he said. “I want to make sure I have their support, which is the most important thing.”

The man Democrats are looking to replace on the county’s governing body is still a freeholder.

Verrelli was recently chosen by his fellow Democrats to fill the vacant state Assembly seat formerly held by Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora.

Verrelli defeated three other candidates at a convention of Democrat county committee members from the 10 towns in Mercer and Hunterdon counties that make up the state’s 15th Legislative District.

It was not immediately known when Verrelli will join the Legislature or when he will resign his freeholder seat. He could not be reached for comment.

Democrats want Verrelli’s resignation timed to avoid having his replacement have to stand for a special election in November.

“One of the things we want to do is coordinate so we don’t have to have yet another election,” Hughes said.

Verrelli, elected in 2016, is in the second year of his three-year term as a freeholder.

In November, three freeholder seats will be on the ballot. If a fourth seat is on the ballot, control of the seven-member board would be at stake. Democrats hold all seven seats on the county’s governing body.

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