Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 13
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
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Candidates Vie for Democratic Party Nod With Some Calling for Change in Township

Matthew Hersh

In a one-party town, the general election effectively takes place during the June primary rather than in November. And for the Princeton’s Democratic party, that vetting process has already begun.

This Sunday, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) will hold its endorsement meeting and Candidates’ Night as candidates in both the Borough and Township seek their party’s endorsement.

It’s basically no contest in the Borough, where incumbent Borough Council members David Goldfarb and Barbara Trelstad are running unopposed for reelection, while Kevin Wilkes, a Democrat, looks for a primary endorsement to an uncontested bid for the Council seat vacated by Councilwoman Wendy Benchley, who officially resigned Monday.

There is a bit more of a battle going on in the Township, where Karen C. “Casey” Lambert, Susan Nemeth, and Bernie Miller vie for two available seats on Township Committee. Mr. Miller, the incumbent, looks for reelection to his third term; Ms. Lambert, who served on Committee between 2002 and 2004, looks to rejoin the governing body; and Ms. Nemeth, a relative greenhorn, seeks a first term on Committee.

At the PCDO vote Sunday night, a candidate can only obtain endorsement if he or she receives a majority of votes from PCDO members present, and if he or she receives 60 percent of the PCDO vote from members who reside in that candidate’s home municipality.

It’s all about the ballot position, a crucial part in securing the upper hand in the primary election, according to all of the candidates running. If a candidate receives the party endorsement, that person gets primary positioning on the ballot in the voting booth, and the slogan, likely to be “Regular Democratic Organization.” If a candidate does not get the party endorsement, but chooses to run anyway in the June primary, he or she would likely be listed in what is considered a much weaker position, usually toward the right side of the ballot.

It’s all up to the Mercer County Democratic Chair, said Dan Preston, who chairs the Princeton Township Democratic Committee. The PTDC will have their endorsement vote Monday, March 31. The Borough Democratic Committee is slated to hold their vote immediately following the PCDO vote Sunday night.

The party machinations are crucial components of the process, and candidates have been seeking out fellow Democrats as they look to secure a vote of confidence.

“I’m reaching out to members of both the Township Democratic Committee and the PCDO,” Ms. Nemeth said, adding that she was focusing her run on property taxes, municipal consolidation, and sustainable development.

“Because the primary is contested, each of the candidates has to fight,” Mr. Miller said. “In the absence of the endorsement, you find yourself either in the column without the slogan or off to the side.

“In either case, there’s not much of a track record of people who don’t get the endorsement of winning the primary election.” Mr. Miller points to affordable housing advocacy, the goal of municipal consolidation, and a record that includes time on the Princeton Township Housing Board, and as chair of the Cable Television Committee.

Ms. Lambert agreed, saying she had reached out to party membership, calling for increased governmental transparency, “zero-based” budgeting, and enhanced relations with the Borough.

While they are not running on a ticket, Ms. Nemeth acknowledged that “it would be good” if she and Ms. Lambert were elected. “I think there’s a little fatigue,” she said, stopping short of saying she and Ms. Lambert, if elected, would caucus for a new mayor in 2009. The five-member body names a sitting Committee member mayor annually. Mayor Phyllis Marchand has received unanimous support from Committee for 11 terms.

Mr. Miller refuted Ms. Nemeth’s assertion, while acknowledging that there has been an individual movement underfoot to change Township leadership. However, he downplayed the effort, which reportedly crosses municipal lines. Mr. Miller would not confirm as much, but sources say that the movement to change Township leadership is tied, at least in part, to a member or members of Princeton Borough Council.

Regardless of how the endorsement process plays out, PCDO President Jenny Crumiller pointed to an increase in PCDO membership, which has spiked to 487 —a number that has doubled in the past four years, she said. “The competition and the many voices within the party have actually gotten more people involved,” she said.

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