Republican trans candidate wins by 1 vote in Democratic NJ city
TRENTON — It's a new year. But is it also a new era in the state's capital city?
On Monday, the city swore in its newest member of the City Council — a Republican transgender white woman who won her seat by a single vote in a majority Democratic and minority city.
Jennifer Williams, the first transgender resident to be elected to the City Council, will represent the city's North Ward following a run-off election last month. The city's political offices are elected in non-partisan races now held during November elections.
Williams, the city's Republican committee chairwoman who lost her 2019 bid for Assembly in the heavily Democratic 15th District, told New Jersey 101.5 that her gender identity never became an issue during the campaign, although it was not for a lack of trying by some of her opponents.
“There were some people who tried to make that an issue behind the scenes or on social media. But as a candidate I just ignored that,” Williams said. “I stuck to what was the purpose of running, which is to try to make our city better, particularly our North Ward, which has a lot of issues. It's always been the stepchild of the city.”
LGBT leaders in Trenton
This is not the first LGBTQ history moment for the city: Mayor Reed Gusciora, who was sworn in for his second term, is a gay man. But former City Council members have made headlines by uttering homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs.
Williams, however, says Trenton is a welcoming city.
"If you come here, or if you're born here, you work hard, you try to really kind of be a part of the community, accept everyone else, they will accept you," Williams said. "We're going to be a great example of that. I've never had any problems. And I expect that to do the same going forward."
No more bad headlines?
Williams, West Ward Councilwoman Teska Frisby, East Ward Councilman Joe Harrison and South Ward Councilwoman Jenna Figueroa Kettenberg took office New Year’s Day, creating a quorum allowing them to conduct city business after months of inaction by the old council.
They will meet formally as a council for the first time on Tuesday. All four had been backed by Gusciora.
The previous City Council locked horns with Gusciora, with the most vocal members calling for his impeachment and resignation. Gusciora said he was forced to govern by executive order because the Council stalled on the budget process.
Williams said the new council may help the city shed its "dysfunctional" appearance.
"I could see right now that the colleagues I'm going to be taking the oath of office with we work together already very collegially, we get along quite well. We're all focused on the same thing, which is improving Trenton, getting rid of those terrible images," she said.
"It's about the people who live here. And they really need it. And I think that's what people responded to. They want to see civility on City Council," Williams said
Changing the perception of Trenton
Changing those images and perceptions of Trenton is key to the city's future success, according to Williams.
"Because if we don't, we're not going to be able to bring businesses in. We're not going to get the people to come and invest in our city," William said. "And a city that has only a 39% homeownership rate, and a 27% poverty rate, we got a lot of work to do. And we have to work together. We have no other choice."
Fresh eyes on Trenton
Everyone can help with the job of "fixing" Trenton by shopping at the city's retailers, trying the city's restaurants and getting rid of their preconceived notions.
"Just come and visit. Come with fresh eyes. Not everything is as bad as what you may have seen or heard over the last four years. There are a lot of good people here. And what they want is they want a chance. They want an opportunity. They want a hand up. And we can do things for ourselves here. But we just do need to have people outside of town to start believing in our city," Williams said.
The four newly sworn-in council members will be joined by the three winners of the at-large runoff scheduled for Jan. 24. Previously declared winners Yazminelly Gonzalez, Crystal Feliciano, and Jasi Edwards will again face Alex Bethea, Taiwanda Terry-Wilson, and Kadja Manuel.