Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes Announces Retirement

Days after Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes vowed “I have not yet begun to fight,” the county’s captain has struck his colors.  Hughes has announced his pending retirement and said that he is ending his campaign for re-election.  Hughes endorsed his rival, Democratic Assemblyman Brian Benson, in a statement released Wednesday.

Hughes said, “I’ve said throughout this campaign that I’ve never run against a fellow Democrat, and despite the fact that I’m being challenged in this race, it has become clear that the best path forward for Mercer Democrats is for me to step aside. I do not make this decision lightly, after more than 20 years in public office fighting for this county and every last resident… Together, we’ve made Mercer strong. A place you want to live. A place you want to raise your children. A place where you can find a good job and a welcoming community.”

The door for the Democratic nomination is now wide and clear for Assemblyman Benson, who has the support of the Mercer Democratic party machine led by Chairwoman Janice Mironov.  Benson secured almost 80% of the county committee vote over the weekend and it became clear that Hughes would be entirely on his own to run his re-election campaign.

Hughes has served as Mercer’s county executive since 2004.  “Twenty years ago, I took on the Republican machine in Mercer and won,” Hughes said. “I’m deeply proud of the fact that since I took office, Republicans have not won a single countywide race. We pushed back Republican rule and turned Mercer into a model for progressive leadership for the entire state.”

In a withering campaign, Benson assailed Hughes in the lead up to today’s announcement, holding him responsible for financial mismanagement in the county and calling for new leadership.  Benson told Insider NJ “I will hire vetted, qualified staff from diverse and broad backgrounds that have real expertise,” after being asked how he would increase accountability in county government.

Hughes’ campaign cited the outgoing executive’s record, saying that “Under Hughes’ leadership, Mercer County has been a driver of economic growth, an environmental leader, and a model of clean and responsive government for the entire state. County government has preserved more than 5,700 acres of open space, built a thriving economy from the bottom up, and turned Mercer into a transit hub for the entire region through Trenton-Mercer Airport. It is home to an award-winning parks system visited by more than two million people every year, and has completed groundbreaking infrastructure projects providing good-paying, union jobs.”

Calling for an end to the county line, Hughes’ campaign said that he will continue to support reforming the electoral process.  In a recent debate, both Hughes and Benson said they would support initiatives such as ranked-choice voting.  Hughes called for unity as he stepped aside, warning voters to keep vigilant against the far-right while endorsing his former opponent.  “At a time when extremist MAGA Republicans threaten our democracy and our most sacred constitutional principles, the stakes of this race could not be higher. To ensure our record of success continues in Mercer County, it’s time to unify for the good of the party. I believe Dan Benson has demonstrated his commitment to this county and our party, and he has my support in his campaign for County Executive.”

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