Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 15
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
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Newly Appointed Wilkes Says He’s Primed, Prepared, and Clued In For Borough Hall

Matthew Hersh

Say what you will about Kevin Wilkes, but don’t say he’s not determined.

Mr. Wilkes, slated to be appointed to a vacant seat on Princeton Borough Council Tuesday night, has waited a long time for this moment. Everything is in place for the 50-year-old Democrat, architect, and activist: party endorsement; a name that’s a known commodity; and, most important, Borough residency.

The Maclean Street resident’s first bid for Borough Council came in 2005, when he sought a vacancy created on the governing body when then-Council President Mildred Trotman was appointed mayor upon the death of Mayor Joe O’Neill.

That effort was nixed in the 11th hour when it became known a day before Borough Council was likely to appoint Mr. Wilkes to the vacancy that he did not meet the residency requirements to hold office. Mr. Wilkes, although a Borough resident at the time, had not yet lived there for a full year.

One of the creative forces behind Quark Park and Writers Block, Mr. Wilkes sought to opt out of the 2006 and 2007 election cycles, but with long-time Councilwoman Wendy Benchley retiring last month, the once-foiled candidate immediately threw his hat into the ring, and fit the bill.

In the nearly three years since he first sought office, Mr. Wilkes has become a fixture at Borough Council meetings, clad in denim and work boots from being on construction sites all day, soaking in the big municipal business, along with the minutiae. Councilman Wilkes, version 2008, is more equipped than candidate Wilkes 2005 ever was, he said.

In fact, the number of Council meetings attended previously prompted one of the questions Democratic Party organizers asked Mr. Wilkes in 2005. “I felt some vulnerability there —I realized that I had only attended Council meetings that pertained to something I was doing, like Writers Block. If I had an issue to lobby, I would go down to Borough Hall and say my peace.”

Two-and-a-half years and roughly 80-odd Council meetings later, Mr. Wilkes, a 1983 Princeton University graduate and managing partner of the Belle Mead-based Princeton Design Guild, said he feels he’s ready to step behind the dais.

“I made the time commitment and I learned a lot in those years, and it was an important part of my training to just sit there and listen,” he said. “It allows me to enter the dais having an understanding of the personal and political interactions with my five fellow Council members. I have some insight into how they think, what they think, and what’s important to them.

“I don’t feel that I’m going to have a lengthy start-up period of trying to find my way around.”

Mr. Wilkes is no stranger to municipal involvement. A member of the Princeton Future Council, he has taken a leadership role within the organization that examines in-town development, as well as looking at economic and society issues. He was also the Princeton Township Building inspector between 1991 and 1994.

The Councilman said that he would focus on the quality of life for downtown merchants (“I think we’re at a critical juncture in the life of downtown,”), maintaining residential neighborhood character, and Princeton University-Borough relations.

“I’m interested in the Campus Plan and its potential for creating something very special, but also the potential for creating more traffic on Alexander Street,” he said.

But after three years, Mr. Wilkes said he’s finally ready to get involved, as he looks toward outright election in November. “I’m really excited and I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”

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