Assemblyman Gusciora Looks to Become Trenton's First Gay Mayor
TRENTON >> Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has been a trailblazing pioneer before.
So when asked Friday if being gay and white will present a challenge in the upcoming Trenton mayoral election, Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) shrugged it off.
“I’ve been in all the churches,” Gusciora said after announcing his bid for mayor. “I’ve been around for the last 20 years working with every civic organization. The reverends all know me. There’s leaders of the black community that have reached out to me over the years. It’s not like I’m a stranger. I own a home in the city and I think I have just as much chance as anyone else.”
Gusciora, who came out in 2006 as the state’s first openly gay legislator, led the charge to legalize gay marriage and civil unions in New Jersey.
Trenton, however, is not known as a welcoming city to the LGBT community.
In 2013, the city earned the dubious distinction of being the least gay-friendly city in New Jersey, according to a Municipal Equality Index conducted by the Human Rights Campaign.
Possibly signaling a softened stance on views of the gay community, Trenton finished middle of the pack last year in the same index, ranking seventh out of 12 cities surveyed.
This year, Elvin Montero is also running as the city’s first openly gay council candidate.
If Gusciora won, he would also become the first elected white mayor in Trenton in 28 years. Ever since Douglas Palmer was Trenton’s first black mayor in 1990, the capital city has elected all African-American mayors, with Tony Mack and Eric Jackson following suit.
However, it’s not uncommon for major urban hubs with predominantly African-American communities to elect a white person.
Philadelphia had a change of the guard with the 2016 election of Jim Kenney, who is white. Before that, the city had African-American mayors the past 16 years with John Street and Michael Nutter.
Kenney was able to gain the support of African-American community, thus propelling him to his win — something Gusciora will also need to accomplish.
What Gusciora will bring to the table that no other candidate can run on is experience, record and connections.
The Trenton resident has served in the Assembly to represent the 15th district since 1996.
His former 15th district colleague, Liz Muoio, was recently appointed treasurer in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.
“She’s got the checkbook,” Gusciora said with a chuckle. “It helps knowing the person who owns the checkbook. But also the governor. I was one of his earliest supporters from the legislature and I think we can have a good working relationship.”
Gusciora has also fought hard for the capital city in recent years on key issues.
Recently, he sued New Jersey over its state office buildings project. The state plans to build two new standalone office buildings to house Taxation and Health and Agriculture, but Gusciora contends it is a missed chance for redevelopment.
Both buildings fall outside the city’s redevelopment zone and feature no multi-use purposes. The project also lacks the support of many city residents.
“I think that the citizens really do want to see the city moving forward, want to see the downtown developed, and I think I made that clear opposing Christie’s plan,” Gusciora said. “I didn’t see a lot of elected officials jumping against Christie’s plan. I think it’s unconscionable that the plan was allowed to go forward.”
Several years ago, Gusciora also battled then-Gov. Chris Christie for the state to build a new Trenton High School. The longtime 15th district legislator would be rewarded for his efforts when Christie, who famously once called the Trenton legislator “numbnuts,” told him during his second Inauguration in January 2014 that Trenton would receive a new high school.
The school is set to open on Chambers Street by 2019.
“The biggest success I’ve had is getting the new high school turned back around and that project is going to be a boon to the educational system,” the assemblyman said.
Gusciora, who mulled a run in 2014 but decided against it, realizes that the next mayor has the best opportunity to transform Trenton with a Democratic-controlled legislature and a Democratic governor.
“Today demonstrates a clear opportunity that we have a new governor and that the governor wants to have a partnership with the next mayor,” Gusciora said. “He’s new and I think I have an ability to work with both the legislature and the governor to make sure that Trenton is brought properly into an economic realm, as far as development goes, infrastructure and state monies.”
Gusciora, who works as a municipal prosecutor in Lawrence and Princeton, said there’s “always been potential” in Trenton.
“It’s the last eight years I blame on the Christie administration that has persona non grata and with the Mack administration,” the longtime legislator said. “Trenton has basically been stepped aside by New Jersey government because of the Mack administration but also the inertia of the Christie administration. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, State Sen. Shirley Turner and I fought like hell to get every dollar we could but at the end of the day, the Christie administration wasn’t budging and helping out the capital city.”
Gusciora said he “enjoyed” his working relationship with outgoing Mayor Jackson, who announced Friday he will not seek a second term.
“I think he’s been constrained by Gov. Christie, who actually turned a blind eye to this city,” the assemblyman said. “We could have done so much more.”
If elected, Gusciora said he would like to see the city redevelop its waterfront — an issue he has brought up before.
“The Department of Education should move out of the waterfront area,” the assemblyman said. “We have a hotel that can be a great Department of Education and then they can put a nice boutique hotel on the waterfront and get the waterfront moving.”
Gusciora said the new mayor really has to focus on “real economic development for downtown Trenton.”
“I hope the best person does win because I think we all agree at the end of the day we have to make Trenton successful and I think we’re all committed to doing that,” he said. “I think I’ve demonstrated that I’ve been a fighter for this city and I think that you can have a real constructive dialogue with the state if you have an active mayor who wants to make some changes.”
Gusciora enters a mayoral race that so far includes Councilman Alex Bethea, 2014 runner-up Paul Perez, and Michael Silvestri.
Darren “Freedom” Green also plans to make a formal announcement that he will throw his hat in the ring.