Worthy, Gusciora raise most money so far in Trenton mayoral race

TRENTON >> Mercer County Deputy Clerk Walker Worthy and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora have the most money to do battle with for the upcoming Trenton mayoral election on May 8.

Worthy has raised $43,605 while right on his heels is Gusciora with $42,188, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission reports filed this month. After expenditures, Gusciora has the most money left in his account with $24,532 while Worthy has $18,646, records show.

“I think that my message resonates and that people get we need economic development downtown,” Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) said Monday in a phone interview. “The most I hear from developers is that it’s a bureaucratic nightmare to deal with the city and they have complaints about the economic development officer and I have my own complaints. I think people are excited for a change and to have a person with experience leading the city.”

Gusciora received donations of $500 from Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Passaic), $1,000 from State Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) and $500 from Princeton Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller.

“She was the councilwoman that was instrumental with Barack Obama in 2008 as far as his campaigning along with the current Mayor Liz Lempert,” Gusciora said.

Another notable donation for Gusciora came from Albert Stark, who is a retired shareholder of the Stark & Stark law firm. He gave $1,000.

Gusciora also transferred the maximum allowable, $8,200, from his Assembly account.

Worthy, who is the self-annointed establishment candidate, received much of the money from the usual political power players. The 2014 third-place finisher received donations of $2,600 from former Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer, $1,100 from Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes’ Chief of Staff Kelvin Ganges, who is dating Worthy’s mom, $500 from Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer), $1,500 from Mercer County Freeholder Pat Colavita, $500 from Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann and $500 from Ewing Councilman David Schroth. Worthy also transferred a $10,000 loan from his failed 2014 campaign.

“This ELEC report is very significant and means that we will have the financial resources we need to tell voters about our plan for Trenton’s future in the crucial final weeks of the campaign,” Worthy said in a statement provided by his campaign spokesman. “I deeply appreciate the support we are receiving from residents, taxpayers, seniors and business owners who share my commitment to making our city safer and to attracting new business investment and jobs to our city.”

Asked about Worthy receiving money from the Mercer County political elite, Gusciora shrugged it off.

“If people want the status quo or the county to run this city, then they have a choice,” said Gusciora, who is a longtime 15th district legislator. “They’re not talking to me.”

In addition to being propped up by the usual political heavyweights, Worthy has accepted money from controversial figures like embattled Mercer County jail Warden Charles Ellis, who is under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct and Scott Schoellkopf, a lieutenant with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office.

Ellis kicked in $600 while Schoellkopf — charged in 2017 with beating his wife who later committed suicide — donated $500.

Worthy did not return a message seeking comment about the questionable donations.

Money could be a factor in the race. In 2014, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, who is not seeking re-election, raised the most amount of dough by a landslide.

Looking to get over the hump this year, raising the third most money this election cycle is 2014 runner-up Paul Perez.

Similar to a recent filing, Perez once again the recipient of donations from Trenton cops.

Perez, a former Army criminal investigator, has made no secret he wants the PBA Local 11’s endorsement. He may not get it as the new union boss contemplates whether the labor organization will back anyone in the mayoral race, but it’s clear Perez still has plenty of support from the boys in blue.

Retired TPD Lt. Rolando Ramos, who is among Perez’s picks to succeed police director Ernest Parrey Jr., has kicked in $750 to the Perez’s coffers.

TPD’s Lino Rosario ($400) and troubled city cop Jason Astbury ($50) have also donated to Perez as has North Brunswick cop Noriel Pena ($300).

Perhaps eyeing the fire director position if Perez wins, Leonard Carmichael, a retired deputy chief for Trenton Fire Department, pitched in $500.

Carmichael briefly served as interim director when George Muschal illegally fired Qareeb Bashir in his stint as acting mayor in 2014 once Tony Mack was booted out of office upon his conviction on federal corruption charges.

Bashir was eventually reinstated by a judge, and his job security under a new mayor hasn’t generated much talk that has centered on the embattled Parrey who is in his last days in office.

Perez, who has $6,195 remaining in his campaign account after expenditures, did not return a message seeking comment.

Raking in the fourth-most money is Councilman Duncan Harrison, who has the backing of Bill Watson — the brother of U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman’s (D-12). Harrison, the youngest candidate, has brought in $12,689.

Harrison’s largest contributors were from Watson ($500), the candidate’s father ($1,100) and former Assemblyman and Union City Mayor Raul Garcia ($1,000). After expenditures, Harrison has $8,846 remaining in his account.

Fifth on the list is Councilman Alex Bethea, who received $10,460 in donations.

Bethea — the self-proclaimed “educational candidate” — was gifted much of his money from educators.

Trenton Education Association (TEA) leaders Naomi Johnson-Lafleur and Janice Williams both chipped in $50 to Bethea’s cause. Bethea was endorsed Friday by the TEA so he can most likely expect an influx of cash from the union.

Bethea’s largest donation, $1,000, came from former 15th District Assembly candidate Dan Toto.

“Councilman Bethea is a friend and he supported me when I ran against the establishment,” Toto said. “I wish him luck.”

Bethea has $5,578 left in his campaign chest.

City activist Darren “Freedom” Green, the apparent dark horse of the race, has more than $7,500 remaining of the $9,252 he raised so far – the largest chunk of that coming from Hamilton accountant Tanya Johnson Hunt who chipped in the maximum individual contribution of $2,600.

Viewed by some as the “anti-police” candidate, Green was propped up by disgruntled police officer Christopher Munn, who kicked in $325 worth of “Free Trenton” T-shirts that supporters have been seen donning.

“He’s the epitome of true community policing,” said Green, who has been a big backer of Munn as he’s fought TPD brass over his suspension for cussing at a superior. “I don’t have $100,000 in the account, but I have 100,000 handshakes.”

Candidates like Green and former councilwoman Annette Lartigue are running shoestring campaigns.

Lartigue, the only woman in the race, doesn’t plan to spend more than $5,100 on her mayoral campaign, and thus, isn’t required to submit a report detailing all her contributions and expenses unless she exceeds that amount.

Lartigue didn’t open a traditional “brick-and-mortar” campaign headquarters and has run more of a virtual campaign, relying on social media and her showing at forums and Sunday’s mayoral debate.

She said her approach is different from candidates who have “spent money to put up large signs illegally on city property.”

“Raising tons of money brings tons of trouble,” Lartigue said. “I have a real heartbeat for this city.”

Reed Gusciora