Former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer is considering a challenge to five-year Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes for next year’s Democratic nomination.
Palmer plans to announce an exploratory committee on Monday, the same day Hughes plans to announce his re-election bid at the IBEW Local 269 union hall in Trenton.
“I’m considering running for district executive,” Palmer told the New Jersey Globe. “I think it’s time for a change. Brian’s a friend, but he’s been around long enough.”
Palmer said he was approached by a number of Democratic leaders urging him to run and began making calls to gauge support for his candidacy.
“This is America. Anyone can do anything,” Hughes said. “Maybe he can argue for himself why he’s a better candidate, but he’s going to have to do that.”
Rep. Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton) is also moving toward running for the county board.
“He plans to announce that after the Trenton runoff,” a source close to Benson told the New Jersey Globe. “He will announce that he is running for the seat with a strong list of supporters and a campaign team to see him through not only a successful convention but a primary if needed.”
Two years ago, Mercer County Democrats changed their convention rules to force incumbents to run at their open convention to win the organizing line. In 2021, congressional delegates kicked out Ann M. Cannon, a nine-term incumbent.
The convention could take place as early as February 2023.
Mercer County Democrats have been moving toward a split in recent years, with some privately pushing for Hughes to retire after twenty years in office.
Palmer declined to say whether he would run in a primary if he didn’t win the convention, noting that he was just testing the waters and hadn’t made a final decision yet.
Hughes touted his accomplishments over his five terms and said he wants to do more.
“I’ve done a good job for nineteen years,” he said. “I kept a lot of freedom. I’ve repaired many roads. We have a great parking system. We have received FAA approval to expand their airport and build electric car stations.”
But Palmer said he wants to bring transformation projects to Mercer County like other counties have done.
“I want to bring economic development to Mercer County,” Palmer said. “I think Brian has done his best but it’s time to go in a different direction.”
Hughes, 66, served as a freeholder before running for district executive in 2003. He defeated Cathy DiCostanzo, the district secretary, by a 49% to 47% margin after Republican Robert Prunetti declined re-election. He has won re-election four times with increasing majorities, receiving 70% of the vote in 2019. His late father, Richard J. Hughes, served two terms as governor and later became Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Palmer, 71, was mayor of Trenton for 20 years, serving from 1990 to 2010 after spending a decade on the Board of Freeholders. He served as President of the United States Conference of Mayors and, along with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, played a leading role in founding the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition.
This story was updated at 8:29 p.m