Former Trenton mayor endorses longtime assemblyman for Mercer County executive

Former Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer (at podium) announces his endorsement of Asm. Dan Benson for Mercer County Executive in next year's election. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Former Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer (at podium) announces his endorsement of Asm. Dan Benson for Mercer County Executive in next year's election. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Something “just galled” former Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer when he learned that Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes would announce that he would run for a sixth term.

“I’m like is there no one that is going to stand up?” he asked.

So Palmer began to explore a run to challenge Hughes. That was barely a month ago; 31 days by Palmer’s count.

As he was gauging a bid, he heard from Asm. Dan Benson, who was planning to forgo his seat in the New Jersey Legislature to challenge Hughes. Several conversations later, Palmer decided to throw his support behind Benson.

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“We share in the belief that a strong Trenton lifts up all of Mercer County,” Palmer said.

Benson will launch his campaign formally on Wednesday, promising a wide-ranging list of endorsements. He said community leaders and residents he spoke with are tired of low expectations and “going along without a vision.”

“The leaders I’ve talked to share a vision of a better and brighter tomorrow for our county and for all of our communities,” Benson said. “We don’t have to accept the status quo. We can do better. We must lead so that we can build a better Mercer County that works for all of us.”

He also announced that Jeannine Frisby-LaRue, a veteran lobbyist for social and racial justice issues in the state, would be the chairperson for his campaign.

Palmer announced his endorsement Monday at Trenton Social, a restaurant and lounge that is a block away from the Cure Insurance Arena. Palmer said he and then-County Executive Bob Prunetti made public investment in the arena, the Trenton Thunder Ballpark, and the now-shuttered downtown hotel to jumpstart the economic revitalization of the city.

A who’s who of politicians and leaders in Mercer County pack a room at Trenton Social on Dec. 12, 2022 to hear former Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer endorse Asm. Dan Benson for Mercer County Executive. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Palmer argued that Hughes did not build upon the groundwork he and his predecessor built.

“Over the last 20 years, the county has not stepped up to the plate to follow through on these initial investments,” Palmer said. “Nothing. Nothing has happened. Absolutely nothing.”

Palmer’s announcement attracted an assortment of notable county politicians including Trenton City Council candidates that are in runoff contests. Prunetti was also in the audience. But he made clear he was not there to lend his endorsement to anyone.

“I’m here for my good friend, Doug Palmer,” he said, adding that he would’ve been behind Palmer if he had run for County Executive.

Though he would love to see a fellow Republican become county executive, Prunetti said should Benson become County Executive, he knows that the capital city would not be forgotten.

“At least I know there’s somebody here for the City of Trenton, that believes, [as Doug and I do,] that as Trenton goes, the rest of the county goes,” he added.

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Benson’s giving up his assembly seat in 2023 to challenge Hughes impressed Palmer.

“What I found in Dan was a shared passion and a willingness to push Mercer County forward so that we can all realize our full potential,” he said. “With his commitment and passion, the need for me to run is now not required.”

Palmer said he came to the realization that it’s about the young leadership that he was seeing coming up, as evidenced by Trenton’s recent municipal election.

“I’ve had my day,” he said. “It’s young people’s time. It’s time for people who have experience to support young people because this is their time.”

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