TRENTON – At the top of a narrow staircase in the Mill Hill section of New Jersey’s capital city, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) brewed a cup of coffee in his campaign headquarters and took a seat by the window overlooking East Front Street. The place is actually an art gallery, owned by a friend, where painted works hang on the walls in place of the usual grinning glossy posters paying rolled-sleeve homage to self. Running for mayor with nine days to go before the May 8th denouement, Gusciora used his legal skills to acquit himself well in the debates, raised $80K, projects the same amiable, never-intrusive or overtly self-interested demeanor as usual, and, by the reckoning of sources, has a pathway, at least, to win a contest insiders once assumed was well out of reach for a gay white male in this particular black city, notwithstanding Don Guardian’s 2013 win in Atlantic City.
The presence of no dominant candidate in a six-person field of African American contenders and the assemblyman’s sturdy trail effort have combined to created some street buzz here around the Gusciora option. The alleged bifurcation of candidate Walker Worthy between powerful handlers Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and former Mayor Doug Palmer, and the Bill Watson-backed Duncan Harrison feed a whisper campaign about undo outside influence. It gives an apparent leg up to lowkey lawyer Gusciora, who’s served in the Assembly since 1996. His detractors say no, not happening. He’s only lived in the city since redistricting relocated him out of the Princetons, where he once also took a crack at mayor. The churches are too much of a factor in Trenton politics, they argue, and finally, although they concede he’s done a good job of making himself look threatening as the candidates turn into the final stretch, he won’t possibly be able to match establishment GOTV efforts on Election Day.
The support that would have lined up behind retiring Mayor Eric Jackson will refortify and drive turnout for, according to his allies, Worthy, the preference of the Mercer County Democratic Committee establishment under the auspices of executive Hughes and the Machiavelian Palmer, who remains an influence over the city’s political fortunes eight years after he opted out of reelection.
“That stunt Reed pulled – distributing pieces that compared himself to Martin Luther King,” didn’t fly in the churches,” a source growled.
But others – and these are Trenton sources not affiliated with Gusciora’s campaign – insist that the meltdown of jailed former Mayor Tony Mack back to back with Jackson’s strange bail-out of a second term, has the city in a mood to go for an out-of-the-box pick.
“Reed comes across as sincere and competent, and independent,” a source told InsiderNJ. “In this environment, it’s effective.”
“People are looking for something different,” a second source said. “Reed doesn’t appear to have any baggage.”
To date, the mostly under-the-radar capital city contest has not experienced a wave of negative mail, but heading into the final week now, some of the candidates are bracing for impact.
Conventional wisdom through the course of the contest to this point anticipated a replay of the 2014 contest, with establishment choice Worthy replacing Jackson as the top-vote getter among the African American candidates facing, once again, former Pentagon security officer Paul Perez. But Trenton insiders insist on a second look, with Worthy, Perez, and yes, with a chopped-up field, dark horse Gusciora, leading the runoff conversation. His rivals say GOTV will be his Waterloo, but Gusciora, lowkey in response, said he’s just running to win.