Businesswoman named to fill open seat on Mercer County freeholder board

Photo by Philip Sean Curran
From left, Freeholder Ann M.Cannon, Nina D.Melker and Freeholder Chairwoman Lucylle R.S. Walter after the vote. (Photo by Philip Sean Curran)

A businesswoman who has never held public office was chosen on Sept. 5 by her fellow Democrats to fill a vacant seat on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Nina D. Melker, of Hamilton Township, emerged from a field of seven candidates trying to succeed state Assemblyman Anthony S. Verrelli, (D-Mercer and Hunterdon), who resigned his freeholder seat last month to join the state Legislature.

Melker won after three rounds of voting by county committee members, finally edging former state Corrections Officers PBA President Lance Lopez in a head-to-head race. Party officials declined to release the results of the vote.

Melker, a banker, said she thought she won “because of my business expertise, my strong financial background and my strong commitment to community.”

She volunteers on nonprofit boards, including serving as the chairwoman of the RWJ Hamilton Foundation, and is active in Democratic politics in Hamilton.

Melker thanked her supporters and received congratulations from county officials, including County Executive Brian M. Hughes.

“So happy for you,” he said to her.

It was not clear when, exactly, Melker will take the oath of office. She said she expects to be sworn in within the next week. The freeholders will next meet on Sept. 11.

Melker would have to run in the general election on Nov. 6 to be able to serve out the rest of Verrelli’s three-year-term, which began in 2017.

She will be the second freeholder from Hamilton, joining Freeholder John A. Cimino, and the third woman on the seven-member board.

“She just wants to roll up her sleeves and get things done,” said state Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson (D-Mercer and Middlesex), who backed Melker in the contest. “She’s really been someone who’s shown herself to be a leader in the county already, so we know she’s going to do a good job.”

Melker, 57, has lived in Mercer County for 35 years, having previously resided in Newark and in Kearny. She is married with two adult daughters.

Democrats from around the county gathered to pick Verrelli’s replacement during a convention at The Stone Terrace by John Henry’s, in Hamilton. Voting was done by secret ballot in voting machines set up in the banquet room.

Melker and the six other candidates were given a chance to offer brief remarks before the voting started. The field also included Lopez, Lawerence Township Councilman Mike Powers, Meals on Wheels of Mercer County CEO Sasa Olessi Montano, former West Windsor Councilman Kamal Khanna, President of the Mercer County Latino Democratic Caucus Roberto Hernandez and Hamilton resident Joseph T. Zalescik.

Two other candidates, Ewing Councilwoman Jennifer Keyes-Maloney and Hamilton resident Tennille R. McCoy, dropped out of the race last week. Both women work for the state.

“While we’re saddened to be leaving this important conversation in our home county of Mercer,” they said in a statement, “we remain steadfast in our ability to positively affect the lives of Mercer residents via our roles with the Murphy Administration.”

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