The battle for dominance between Senate President Steve Sweeney/George Norcross III and Governor Phil Murphy isn’t the only ferocious political ballgame in the state’s capital city.
There is a power struggle at the local political level too between Mayor Reed Gusciora and Council President Kathy McBride.
They started off as allies.
Then McBride broke with the mayor. First with Princetel. Second with the budget.
The mayor has been focused on development (see Princetel), but McBride thinks it’s a giveaway to his friends to change the complexion of Trenton and push out long time Trentonians, particularly black ones, according to a source close to the rivalry.
Elected last year, the mayor represents change but is still seen as new to town, compared to some of the deep dive local players. Few (if any) from his cabinet are native Trentonians. He has a bit of a Murphy problem in the sense that the political establishment in the city doesn’t see him staying in the city. So, people are positioning for 2022. McBride once ran for mayor, and lost badly.
Part of the mayor’s issue, according to one source, is his chief of staff is not feared. Yoshi Manale, a former Lesnaik aide, doesn’t have a reservoir of relationships in Trenton.
On the local legislative body itself, another at-large councilman with possible mayoral aspirations, Jerell Blakeley, is a McBridge antagonist.
McBride supported Councilwoman Marge Caldwell Wilson’s opponent last year, but then Caldwell Wilson supported McBride for council president against Blakeley, who now works at the state Department of Labor.
Blakeley’s rivals say Gusciora hooked him up with the governor’s office, which was why he voted aye on Princetel and the budget. But Blakeley has consistently argued that Gusciora was right about he development project and the budget, and maintains that McBride’s and Caldwell Wilson’s fight with the Department of Community Affairs will ruin Trenton’s relationship with the state, which funds a third of the city’s budget. Indeed, there were rumors of a blowout argument with Melanie Waters at DCA that infuriated Sheila Oliver. The state just gave the city an extra $7 million dollars and reinstated the Capital City Aid line item. So to sue when Murphy – in the words of one source – was making all the right moves, is “crazy.”
But back to Gusciora.
His biggest challenge, one source said, continues to be his lack of major political capital from the city power brokers. And people are looking past him. The council bristles at his lack of Trenton connections, his salary increases for his directors, most of whom don’t live in town, and his lack of relationships with the council.
The mayor was a fluke win because he ran against six black candidates.
McBride would probably go next time.
So would Blakeley.
Also consider the Paul Perez factor. Beaten by Gusciora last year, he might run again.
There is a line that is very important. McBride and West Ward Councilwoman Robin Vaughn never got along but are now allies.
Still, Gusciora’s team is regarded as actually pretty talented. Very competent. Particularly Fire, Police, and Economic Development. Top of the line coups for the city. Bright spot in his administration. But they only have to attend council meetings on Tuesdays and not Thursdays.