May 31, 2023

June 6 Local Primaries are Uncontested; Candidates Look to November Election

By Donald Gilpin

Princeton voters will go to the polls on June 6 — or June 2, 3, or 4 for early voting—to select Democratic or Republican candidates to run in the November general election. On the primary ballot are candidates for state Senate, New Jersey General Assembly, Mercer County executive, county sheriff, Board of County Commissioners, and Princeton Council.

Though the primary races in Princeton this year are all uncontested, the fall election promises several highly competitive contests — not including the Council positions, where only Democrat incumbents David Cohen and Leticia Fraga, and no Republicans, have filed for two open spots. Democrats have run unopposed in Princeton Council elections since 2018.

There is an early voting site at the Princeton Shopping Center, one of seven in the county, open Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Voters who wish to vote by mail and have not yet applied can go in person to the county clerk’s office in Trenton before 3 p.m. on June 5. Voted ballots may be returned to any drop box location within Mercer County by 8 p.m., June 6,  returned to the Mercer County Board Elections at 930 Spruce Street in Lawrence, or mailed in by the same deadline.

Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello also reminds voters to check their sample ballots and to note specifically their polling location since the Board of Elections has changed some polling locations for this primary election.  Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 6. All registered voters can vote in the primary. An unaffiliated voter can go to the polling place on Election Day or an early voting day, declare a party, Democrat or Republican, then vote for candidates of that party.

In New Jersey’s 16th legislative district, of which Princeton is a part, incumbent State Sen. Andrew Zwicker is the only Democrat vying for the nomination. Michael Pappas, the only Republican in the senate primary, is expected to run against him in the fall in a rematch of the 2021 election, when Zwicker won 53 percent of the vote to Pappas’ 47 percent.   

Zwicker, who served in the General Assembly from 2016 to 2022 before joining the Senate, is a physicist at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. Pappas was a member of the U.S. Congress, 1997 to 1999, and has also served as a member of the Somerset County Board of Freeholders, as Franklin Township mayor, and on the Franklin Township Council.

Primary candidates for two available positions in the 16th district for the New Jersey General Assembly include incumbent Roy Freiman and Mitchelle Drulis for the Democrats and Ross Traphagen and Grace Zhang for the Republicans.  Democratic incumbent Sadaf Jaffer is not seeking reelection to a second term. 

Freiman is running for his fourth term in the assembly, having served as chairman of the Agriculture and Food Security Committee, following a career at Prudential Financial, where he was a vice president of strategy and analytics.  Drulis, a small business owner, has worked as legislative aide and chief of staff to New Jersey Assembly members and as political director and district director for former Congressman Tom Malinowski.

Traphagen is a small business owner who is in his second term on the Clinton Town Council, where he has served on the historic commission, the communications committee, and the water and sewer board. Zhang, an active resident in the Princeton community, is a certified public accountant with her own consulting and accounting business.

In Mercer County races, Dan Benson, the sole Democrat seeking nomination for county executive, is expected to face Lisa Richford, the only Republican up for county executive on the primary ballot, in the November general election.  Brian Hughes, who has been the Mercer County executive for the past 20 years, will be retiring at the end of this year.

Benson, who has served on the Hamilton Council and on the Board of Mercer County Commissioners, has been a New Jersey assemblyman since 2011. In the assembly he chairs the transportation and independent authorities committee and is also a member of the Budget Committee and the Health Committee.    

Richford, an attorney for more than 30 years, is the Mercer County Republican Committee Chair, looking to overturn the Democrats’ 20 years of one-party rule in the county.

In other Mercer County races, the Board of Commissioners’ two incumbent Democrat presumptive nominees, Lucylle Walter and John Cimino, expect to be running in the fall against Republican challengers Joseph Stillwell and Denise “Neicy” Turner.

In the contest for county sheriff, Democrat incumbent John “Jack” Kemler  and Republican challenger Bryan “Bucky” Boccanfuso are their parties’ presumptive nominees for a three-year term starting January 1, 2024.

In running for his third three-year term on Princeton Council, Cohen, an architect, has emphasized his commitment to completing the work begun over the past six years. As Councilman, he has been a member of the Central Jersey Forum and the Flood and Storm Water Commission, a liaison to the Friends of Herrontown Woods, the mayor’s representative on the Planning Board, and a member of the following committees: Local Emergency Planning, Pedestrian and Bike Advisory, Finance, Infrastructure and Operations, Planning and redevelopment, and Traffic Safety.

Fraga, also seeking a third term, has emphasized her pledge to represent all voices in the community and to use an equity lens in making policy decisions. She was Council president in 2021 and 2022, and as a Councilwoman has served on the Board of Health; the Civil Rights Commission; the Human Services Commission; as police commissioner; as chair of the Public Safety Committee; and as a member of the Legal, the Personnel, the Local Emergency Planning, and the Youth Advisory committees. 

Not on the primary ballot are independent candidates and candidates of parties other than Democrat or Republican, who have until June 6 to file to run in the general election. 

Also not on the primary ballot are candidates for the nonpartisan Princeton Public Schools Board of Education race. This year’s November 7 School Board contest, with three seats up for grabs, is expected to be even more hotly contested than usual. The filing deadline for School Board candidates is July 31. The terms of Board members Beth Behrend, Jean Durbin, and Michele Tuck-Ponder are up at the end of this year. It is not known whether they will be running for reelection.

For more information on elections and voting options, visit the Mercer County clerk’s website at