And then there were two. As expected, no one candidate achieved 50 percent of the vote in Trenton’s May 8 mayoral election, an eight-person race, leaving the top two vote-getters, Paul Perez and Reed Gusciora, to face each other in a runoff on Tuesday, June 12. No matter who prevails, the results are already a shake-up, as the candidate with the most establishment endorsements, Walker Worthy, came in third place.
The runoff pits Perez, a businessman and Army veteran, against Gusciora, who has been a state Assemblyman for more than 20 years. The new mayor will also be a first for the city, as Perez would be its first Hispanic mayor while Gusciora would be its first openly gay mayor. Also both candidates moved to Trenton less than 10 years ago, although Perez was born there.
A key issue in the election is business, as the new mayor will take over Trenton’s perpetual efforts to revitalize the economy of a city that lost its industrial base 40 years ago and has never quite replaced it.
The MidJersey Chamber of Commerce is hosting a candidates forum on Tuesday, May 22, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the CURE Insurance Arena, to give the mayoral hopefuls a chance to explain their plans for business in Trenton. Cost to attend is $30. For more information, visit www.midjerseychamber.org or call 609-689-9960.
Each candidate will be given 15 minutes to discuss his goals and strategies for the city, focusing on business, and a structured question-and-answer session will follow.
In the preliminary election, Perez earned 28 percent of the vote while Gusciora got 20 percent. Only about 22 percent of Trenton’s registered voters came to the polls.
Paul Perez was born and raised in Trenton, the 11th of 15 children in a Puerto Rican family. His mother was a housekeeper at Mercer Hospital. According to a Trenton Times profile from 2014, Perez dropped out of high school to get his GED. He then briefly attended Bloomfield College before joining the Army, beginning a 20-year career there during which he became a special agent in the Criminal Investigation Command, and later worked at the Pentagon on the security details of officials and dignitaries who traveled overseas.
In 2012 he returned to Trenton and founded his own company, PZ Energy and Electric, which advertises energy-efficient lighting retrofit services.
Perez has never held elective office. In 2014 he ran for mayor and lost to Eric Jackson in a runoff election.
Perez’s website — www.paulperezformayor.com — is noteworthy for its thorough accounting of the problems facing Trenton along with detailed proposals to fix them. His list of problems includes everything from a lack of a traffic enforcement unit in the police force to an excessive amount of red tape and unnecessary secrecy in the workings of city government. He wants to professionalize the police force while increasing the diversity of its officers, and pledges to eliminate the “open-air drug market” downtown at the intersection of South Broad and East State streets. He also laid out plans for increasing home ownership, beautifying the downtown business district, and increasing the transparency of government.
Reed Gusciora was born in Passaic and earned a bachelor’s degree at the Catholic University of America and a law degree from Seton Hall. He was elected to the state Assembly in the 15th district in 1996 and was a Princeton resident until 2011, when he moved to Trenton after redistricting changed the boundaries of the 15th district.
As a lawmaker Gusciora has supported state initiatives that help Trenton, such as the Urban Enterprise Zone, a tax incentive that gives a sales tax cut to economically distressed cities.
Gusciora’s website — www.reed4mayor.com — also outlines a policy platform. His includes giving the police body cameras, building the long-delayed Capital State Park on the waterfront, attracting mid-size and large businesses, and establishing a citizens 311 hotline to report non-crime problems to city government. He also wants to re-establish the city’s recycling program.
He is also critical of the state’s plan to relocate office facilities downtown, calling it “disastrous planning” and a missed opportunity. He says the office plan does not follow planning guidelines for transit oriented development, and that a mixed-use project rather than single-purpose office buildings would be better for the city, and vowed to fight it as mayor to get a better development plan.