Mercer County Mayhem: An InsiderNJ Aftermath
A political season of pushing and shoving resolved itself at last Assemblyman Dan Benson crushed
incumbent Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes at last week’s party convention. The outcome proved so lopsided, that the front office jumped in and muzzled Hughes, as he attempted to turn his defeat into a John Paul Jones moment.
Amid all the clanging, we should not lose sight of a couple of significant ramifications of Benson’s victory, and perhaps more to the point, Hughes’ loss.
Son of the late Governor Richard Hughes – generally regarded as one of New Jersey’s greatest governors – Hughes in office represents a unique and vital tie to the state’s political past.
The late Steve Adubato, Sr. once described Richard Hughes as – by far – his favorite governor, noting the Burlington leader’s stateliness and dignity that bordered on – Adubato’s words – priestly grace. It’s a stunning comment, really, when one considers the depths to which state politics has plummeted, our sense of public gravitas farther from the Good Book, and closer to Goodfellas.
Brian Hughes, it must be said, has a lot of his father in him, so losing him in public office isn’t just a bond with the past lost, but the loss of an embodiment of something imperfect, yes, but nonetheless decidedly decent.
The fact that he went down in the Towering Inferno of the presentday iteration of South Jersey – not his father’s – rankles a bit, but his legacy thankfully rises above just the complications and associations of his pending exit.
He’ll be missed when he goes.
Other factors: Benson – now the clear favorite to win the county executive seat – represents a future secured with velvet glove and cape, or a shrewd and timely sense of county committee politics, which speaks to a certain political sophistication on his part, combined with progressive policy priorities.
Elected to the Hamilton Town Council over 20 years ago, the Georgetown University graduate lost
his first shot at an assembly seat to eventual Democratic running mate Linda Greenstein and Republican Bill Baroni. Two years later, Wayne DeAngelo narrowly beat him at the party convention for a vacant assembly seat shot in 2007. Benson endured, however, catapulting past fellow Commissioner John Cimino (who had the support of DeAngelo and Building Trades labor) to claim an assembly seat in 2011. He bided his time, never losing time as he built countywide party support, and this year finally took his shot, unsaddling a longstanding name, or as PolitickerNJ’s Matt Friedman once wrote, “the towering figure of Mercer politics” in Brian Hughes.
Benson, 47, with his win, became Mercer, best known as the county inspired by Continental Army Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, felled at the Battle of Princeton.
Fair play to Benson.
In the process of his victory last Sunday, South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross III slipped farther into the political abyss, even as neighboring Middlesex, which backed Benson, continues to drag a Godzilla-sized tail across the Central Jersey landscape.
But we’ve written about that exhaustively.
For the present, Mercer Democrats looked to resolve a three-way fracas for two seats in the 14th Legislative District, with DeAngelo vying in the party primary along with newcomers Tennille McCoy and Rick Carabelli. As that gets banged around, don’t forget the genteel and substantive politics of the family of Hughes, a name that once prompted Lyndon Johnson to strongly consider Governor Hughes (an ally of JFK, who hosted Kennedy at the War Memorial, where Brian Hughes, then a child, met the president) as his running mate.
Don’t forget, amid the ravages of empire, that this state held Johnson’s presidential nominating convention of 1964 in Atlantic City, on the Jersey Shore, a few wars and scars removed to be sure, in another time, but in the same place, the birthplace, in fact, of Richard and Brian Hughes.
Click here for the full Insider Index
Dan Benson is a very smart person who recognized the importance of the county committee and worked it. He will make a very good County Executive. He’s got his ear to the ground and understands how government works works and should work for the people.