The race for a vacant seat on the Mercer County Board of Freeholders has grown to a field of nine Democrats who will try to persuade party officials next month that they should be selected.
Nina Melker and Joseph Zalescik, both of Hamilton Township, have joined the contest to replace Anthony S. Verrelli, who resigned recently to become a state Assemblyman representing the 15th Legislative District.
The other candidates seeking the one-year appointment are Lawrence Township Councilman Michael Powers, former West Windsor Councilman Kamal Khanna, Ewing Councilwoman Jennifer Keyes-Maloney, Roberto Hernandez, president of the Mercer County Latino Democratic Caucus, Sasa Olessi Montano, chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, Lance Lopez Sr. and Tennille McCoy.
A race that many Democrats expected to draw a crowd has done so.
“Every time I talk to someone, I keep finding out more people,” Melker said on Aug. 20. “This race definitely has a lot of names in there, that’s very true.”
In making the case for why Democrats should chose her next month, Melker, a private banker, pointed to her financial expertise and her participation in the nonprofit world.
Among other things, she is the chairwoman of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton Foundation board.
“I thought it was a good time for me to come out and take that into the public service side and go into the political arena again,” said Melker, 57, who lost a previous race for the Hamilton Township Council.
The vacancy on the board of freeholders comes with some of the candidates saying a female minority should get the nod. At present, the board is made up of four men and two women, with one black member, Samuel Frisby Sr.
Zalescik said on Aug. 20 that the vacant seat “belongs to the people of Mercer County.”
“It doesn’t belong to any particular ethnic group or somebody with any particular background,” he said. “This opportunity doesn’t come along that often, where you have an appointment for a year and then you run a year later.”
Zalescik, who ran for a seat on the Hamilton Township Council three times in the 1980s, said he had made up his mind to run for freeholder about two weeks ago. He works for Capital Health as manager of media resources and is an elected fire commissioner in Hamilton.
“I have the background of doing budgets, negotiating union contracts, doing everything a councilperson would do, just on the fire side,” said Zalescik, 57.
Members of the Mercer County Democratic Committee are scheduled to meet at the Stone Terrace, a banquet hall in Hamilton, on Sept. 5 to decide who will serve the remainder of Verrelli’s unexpired three-year term. Verrelli was elected to the seven-member board in 2016, with Democrats controlling all the seats.
Mercer County Democratic Chairwoman Janice S. Mironov, who is the mayor of East Windsor, could not be reached for comment.