What do you get when a City Hall scandal rocks the capital city in New Jersey? Low voter turnout

(State House)– Trenton is one of several large New Jersey municipalites with “non-partisan” elections for Mayor today.  Here’s a little tutorial about this race and what you might expect once the ballots are counted later this evening.

  • There are six candidates running to replace scandal-ridden ex-Mayor Tony Mack who perp-walked his way out of City Hall and into a boatload of legal- and ethical drama.  Mack’s gone and good riddance to that.  
  • Turnout for Trenton’s last mayoral race was abysmal: only 28% of registered voters show up on election day in 2010. 
  • If a single candidate fails to score 50% + 1 of votes cast today, the top two finishers head to a runoff scheduled June 10th.  In a six-horse race like this, odds of one candidate hitting the 50% mark are very long indeed.  Expect a runoff

Six Horse Race

Presenting — in alphabetical order – your cast of characters in today race:

James Golden was Trenton’s police director from 2000-02.  There were “only” 49 homicides in Trenton during Golden’s watch, a number that seems inconceivably small by today’s more crime-addled, blood-soaked standards.  Upon leaving Trenton, Golden did a stint for the TSA at Philly’s airport followed by a gig working head of security in the Philadelphia Public Schools, so he’s got the law enforcement thing down cold.  Trenton could use some of that.  

Candidate Golden’s come back to Trenton to run for Mayor and foster “a closer connection between Police and the community.”    He’s a 50-50 bet to make the two-man/woman runoff.

Trenton native Eric Jackson is the city’s former Public Works director.  He fell just short of a runoff in 2010 and says he’s “a better candidate” for the experience.  After his disappointing finish, Jackson threw his support behind ex-Mayor (and future ex-con) Tony Mack.  Did Jackson not sense Mack’s potential for corruption?  

“I’m not one of these folks that had clairvoyance and knew criminal days and all this stuff was ahead,” Jackson said. “I just didn’t see it coming.”   (Which is surprising because most people paying attention had at least a vague sense that Tony Mack was no good for Trenton.  That’s how I recall it anyway.)  

Eric Jackson’s field operation is robust.  I saw it with my own eyes.  With four offices city-wide, the campaign is well poised to get their people to the polls.  Which is kinda the point.  This sort of ground game is especially important today in light of Trenton’s recent changes in polling station sites.   Jackson is one of three candidates with a realistic chance of making the runoff

W. Oliver “Bucky” Leggett was elected to Trenton City Council in 1970.  Judging from the material features of Leggett’s campaign, he’s still stuck in the 1970s.  No website. No Twitter.  He doesn’t even have a Facebook page.   It’s hard to take a candidate with no digital presence seriously, which is unfortunate because Bucky Leggett has some decent ideas (such as implementing a two-term limit in City Hall.)   In any event, the only thing worse than not having a campaign website would be to actually win the race without one.  No matter.  Leggett won’t make the June run off.  If he does, I’ll cover the runoff dressed as Conchita Wurst.  

Councilwoman Kathy McBride is also a Trenton native.  Like Leggett, McBridge has a retrograde approach to technology which explains her paltry twenty-one Facebook “likes.”   (How lame is that? I’ve seen Facebook pages devoted to Cat Litter with more followers!)   McBride’s field campaign looks really messy and disorganized and that’s being kind.  What I saw with my own eyes in front of her HQ looked was homeless-looking men carrying upside-down campaign signs (?) coarsely shouting at unassuming pedestrians to vote McBride.  It was pretty obnoxious. One guy showed up for a PAID canvass already three sheets to the wind.  At 2pm.  To the campaign’s credit he was sent packing.   I gave him a dollar and a brown bag lunch I swiped from an other HQ. 

Anyway, according to one staffer, the canvasses were being paid.  So at least on this one day Kathy McBride can say she’s a job creator.  She still won’t make the runoff

Paul Perez is Trenton-born and raised.  More recently he lived in Northern Virginia where he moved after a stint in the Army.  His HQ was really busy when I popped in at noon.  “It’s been this way since a quarter-to-six!” said one field hand.   Perez’ online presence is also robust: he’s gotten more Facebook followers (3,283) than his five competitors combined.   Substantively, he’s got some decent ideas for Trenton too, including creating a historic Williamsburg-style historic village to showcase  Trenton’s Revolutionary Wartime history.   George Washington knew this area well and he would surely approve.  Today however is about voter approval and at the end of the day Perez probably won’t get enough of that to move on.  He probably won’t make today’s runoff

Last but not least, we have Walker Worthy.   The Mercer establishment favorite, he  wants to revitalize Trenton’s  starting with the waterfront, possibly with a mid-sized casino.  He’ll likely battle James Golden for tonight’s second (and last) runoff berth.  In addition to the catchiest jingle (“Worthy to Serve * Ready to Lead!”) Worthy appeared to have the most  active ground game on the day.  Deputy Campaign Manager Sterling Henry rattled off some impressive numbers: “we have 150 people in the streets plus twelve teams of cars reminding- and driving people to the polls. We have every poll covered.”    And that was just the first shift!   His aggressive, grassroots ground means Waker is a decent bet to move on to the runoff

Predictions

I’ll be bold.  I’m calling today’s race for Eric Jackson.  He’ll score the most votes (roughly 2,500 perhaps) but fall short of 50% and face either Walker Worthy or James Golden in a duel that’ll come down to a few dozen votes.   Paul Perez, Kathy McBride, and Bucky Leggett will round on the top 6, in that order.   Turnout will be embarrassingly low, falling just shy of 25%.

Watch this space……

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton