Democrats will select from among party hopefuls to fill freeholder seat

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Seven Democrats have confirmed they are running to fill a vacant seat on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Lawrence Township Councilman Michael Powers, former West Windsor Councilman Kamal Khanna, Ewing Councilwoman Jennifer Keyes-Malone, Roberto Hernandez, president of the Mercer County Latino Democratic Caucus, Sasa Olessi Montano, the chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, Lance Lopez Sr. and Tennille McCoy are aiming to replace Democrat Anthony Verrelli, who resigned his freeholder seat to join the state Assembly earlier this month.

Members of the Democratic county committee are due to replace Verrelli on Sept. 5 when they choose someone to serve the remainder of his three-year term. Verrelli was elected to the freeholder board in 2016.

“This is actually, I think, a really exciting time in our county that there are so many people interested in this seat,” Olessi Montano said on Aug. 15. “I think it probably mirrors the national perspective that so many people are stepping up and that’s the democratic way.”

She is a former member of the Trenton Board of Education, in the city where she resides.

On Aug. 14, Olessi Montano, Keyes-Maloney, Khanna, Hernandez and McCoy went before the Democratic municipal committee in West Windsor to introduce themselves and talk about their candidacies.

“I’m in it,” Khanna said on Aug. 15. “I think for me, it’s the right time.”

Powers, a member of the Lawrence council for 14 years, has served as mayor of the municipality for two terms.

“It’s an opportunity to bring the skills I’ve had at the township level to the county level,” he said on Aug. 15.

Lopez, also of Lawrence Township, is a former president of the state corrections officers union. He has been a corrections officer for 23 years and is a veteran of the Army, a background he feels will be an asset as a freeholder.

“I think the citizens here want a regular guy,” he said on Aug. 15.

Lopez also touched on his ability, as the son of a Latino father and a black mother, to bring diversity to the freeholder board. At present, the seven-member board has no one of Latino heritage serving.

“The more diverse voices there are at a table, the stronger any discussion becomes and any deliberation becomes,” said Olessi Monatano, a Latina. “So I think having a Latina on the board to represent a growing Latino community in our county is a good thing.”

McCoy, of Hamilton Township, is active in Democratic politics and has run unsuccessfully for the Township Council in that community. She works for the state as an assistant commissioner for human capital strategies in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

If McCoy is named to the seat, she would be, at 39, the youngest member of the freeholder board and the third woman to serve. She would also be the second black member and the second representative from Hamilton.

“I think we have to look at it more as we will gain a woman who has the opportunity to partner with all municipalities in Mercer County,” McCoy said on Aug. 8. “I will not sit as a freeholder and just look at Hamilton issues. I’m going to be a freeholder who is going to partner and have an understanding of Hopewell issues, Ewing Township’s issues, and partner together and make sure my strategic goals are aligned with their plans.”

She called it “imperative” for a woman of color to be placed on the board.

“Women are the nuts and bolts of every election,” she said. “I truly believe that, if elected as the next freeholder of Mercer County, I truly will be able to partner and have the opportunity to work with the other freeholders in making sure we align our goals with the goals of the municipalities.”