Candidates appeal to voters as Trenton mayoral runoff approaches

It’s a typical New Jersey storefront campaign headquarters. Inside, a losing candidate for mayor endorses one of the two who move forward to a runoff.

The endorser is Darren Freedom Green, as he’s known. He’s backing Paul Perez, a local businessman who spent 20 years in the Army as a criminal investigator. He’s now a business consultant in Trenton making his second run for mayor.

“We’re going to bring good, responsible management to the money of this city. We’re going to bring the proper distribution of resources to the people of the city,” Perez said.

On the other side of the runoff is Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who has represented Trenton in the Legislature for more than two decades.

“I’ve represented the capitol city for 22 years. I think I’m in the best position to use my level of government experience to work with the governor, work with the county executive to bring all people and neighborhoods together to make this city better,” Gusciora said.

There were seven candidates for mayor in the May 8 election. Perez finished first with 2,582 votes. Gusciora finished second with 1,841 votes. Since neither got 50 percent plus one, the contest goes to a runoff.

Gusciora has the distinction of being New Jersey’s first openly gay legislator. Perez, if successful, would be Trenton’s first Latino mayor. The city of 84,000 is 50 percent African-American, 36 percent Latino and 14 percent white. Green says it’s not about demographics.

“I want us to understand as we move through this runoff, this isn’t a contest or an opportunity to elect the first Latino mayor. This isn’t an opportunity to elect the first openly gay mayor. This is an opportunity to elect the best candidate to lead this city forward,” Green said.

Current Mayor Eric Jackson declined to run for re-election. Perez ran against him four years ago and says he’s just kept running. He stresses his ties to the city of his birth.

“My wife is from here, my family is from here. I come from a big family, there’s 15 of us. I’m 11 of 15 children, so it’s pretty hard not to know our family here in the city,” he said.

Perez says Gusciora is the candidate of the machine, not the people.

“That’s pretty rich that the machine didn’t endorse me for the first go around, and I think that I have a reputation for being independent and a strong voice for the people in the Legislature. The only boss that I listen to is Bruce Springsteen,” Gusciora said.

The battle for Trenton City Hall culminates on June 12, a week after the congressional primary. Will it be the veteran legislator or the former Army man returned home?

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