Vol. LXI, No. 17
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Mildred Trotman is not averse to doing a political dance every now and then to show why, and how, she has been an integral part of Princeton Borough government for more than 20 years.
Just don't call her a politician.
"I want to do great for my municipality and for the people I represent, but," she added, with a meaningful pause, "I am not a politician."
When Ms. Trotman, Borough mayor since October 2005, and a member of Borough Council since 1985, was first approached by the late Borough Mayor Barbara Sigmund to run for an open Council seat in the 1984 elections, she said she had every reason to say no, but none good enough to make her pass up a run at public office.
"I had all kinds of excuses not to run: I didn't have the time, I didn't have the money, and I couldn't see myself going from door to door shaking hands," Ms. Trotman said last Wednesday at her home office on Witherspoon Street. Now semi-retired from heading up her own property management company, the mayor does have the time, and, clearly, the stamina.
In 2006, Ms. Trotman underwent spinal cord decompression surgery. At the time, the discomfort rose to the level where it was a strain to attend municipal meetings, let alone take on the public duties of a mayor. But now that she's healed, and in the face of a Democratic primary election in June against newcomer Kim Pimley, Ms. Trotman said that she's ready, once again, to send an energetic message to prospective voters.
Perhaps that is the temperament needed for a "big small town" like Princeton, she said. It may be small in population (12,000) and geographically (one square mile), but it looms large because of its location on the Northeast corridor and the presence of Princeton University.
But it's the small town qualities, Ms. Trotman said, that keep her involved. Going door to door was what got her hooked.
"I found that to be the most rewarding part of the process."
So in 1984, when she and Council candidates Marvin Reed and Jane Terpstra "walked every inch of Princeton Borough that didn't have a building on it," her view of the town she lived in for 25 years at the time changed.
"I saw places that I didn't even know existed in Princeton. When you're walking, you notice every nook and cranny," she said.
"When you have an opportunity to speak to people one-on-one, they may not agree with you in the end, but they certainly appreciate it better, and, to me, that's what it's all about."
Ms. Trotman is about to embark on her first contested mayoral run since being appointed to the position in October 2005 upon the death of Mayor Joe O'Neill. She was then elected to a special one-year term last November to carry out Mr. O'Neill's unexpired term, and is now seeking a full, four-year term.
The mayor, a serious woman, though easily approachable, admits she was surprised to find that she had a challenger in the party primary, particularly after a nod from the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, but said she welcomes the challenge.
"I run on my record. All the issues that concern Princeton are out there, and I'm perfectly willing to discuss them. Dialogue is good," she said, citing "open issues" in the Borough like the downtown development project, gang issues, the relocation of the hospital and subsequent redevelopment of the hospital's Witherspoon campus, and the Merwick Rehab Center on Bayard Lane, the projected development of Princeton University, and property taxes.
"Dialogue? Bring it on and let's discuss it, I'm talking the entire town. If this [election] is the vehicle to do it, that's great, but these discussions have been out there."
Ms. Trotman speaks at length about concerns related to municipal taxes and the "jolting," 16-cent increases when paired with the now-defeated public schools budget, but she described both as "good budgets," and said that room for cuts, particularly in the municipal budget, which is currently subject to a five-cent increase, are few. But "while the public does not get to vote directly on the municipal budget, it does vote for the people to set it," she said, adding that she hopes more residents will take an active role in Council meetings when budgetary items are being discussed. "I think once residents get a better idea of how the money is spent, there will be a better understanding in general."
Understanding, the mayor said, is important when it comes to socio-political circumstances as well. In February, the local activist group, Not In Our Town, hosted a forum that aimed to examine a recent spike in racial tension, particularly related to an incident last year where four black Princeton High School students were arrested for alleged involvement in an assault case. The students were ultimately cleared of any charges related to the incident, but the strained atmosphere between Princeton Borough Police and some members of the black community persists, and the mayor, herself an African American, said that while race or gang-related crimes in the Borough might not measure up to other municipalities in the area, "anytime there is a behavior that identifies with gangs, there is enough to be concerned about."
The main point of contention in the PHS incident was the Police Department's decision to arrest the teens at school, rather than at the homes of the students. The Department has defended its decision, saying that officers could not get parents to cooperate.
"I wasn't there, I didn't witness it, but what we have done since that incident is sit down and come up with ways that would improve the situation," said Ms. Trotman. "Perception is the key.
"If you do a crime, no one is excluded from being accountable for that crime to the extent of the law, but the police can carry out their job, most times, without being disrespectful to the alleged perpetrator," the mayor said.
When asked whether consolidating the Borough and Township police departments could lead to a necessary departmental shake up, Ms. Trotman addressed the issue more along the lines of full municipal consolidation. "If we consolidate the police and public works, for all intents and purposes, we're already there."
While going door-to-door was not something Ms. Trotman envisioned, she is energized when speaking of her coming election campaign. "I never tire of meeting with people, and I like being part of 'it' and working for the good of the people." She added that while there are several issues in the Borough that need addressing, "I wouldn't want to live in a different town than Princeton Borough, and I will continue to bask in the knowledge of the people I meet."
Mayoral Democratic primary challenger Kim Pimley will be profiled in the May 2 edition of Town Topics.
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