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Candidates Address Town Issues at Forum

Borough's Koontz Endorsed by PCDO

Candace Braun

Out of four candidates running for two open Borough Council seats, only incumbent Councilman Andrew Koontz received endorsement from the Princeton Community Democratic Organization at Sunday's meet-the-candidates night.

Incumbent Roger Martindell received the most votes from Borough residents, with 50 out of a potential 74 votes, compared to Mr. Koontz's 44 votes, but Mr. Koontz was the only Borough candidate to receive over 60 percent of the total votes, the required number of votes to be endorsed by the PCDO.

If approved by Mercer County Chair Rich McClellan, Mr. Koontz's name will appear in a separate column on the ballot for the June Primary, representing his endorsement.

"I think it's great," said Mr. Koontz. "I'm very honored to receive the endorsement of the PCDO."

Mr. Koontz had 81 of the potential 121 votes from Borough and Township registered Democrats in attendance. Mr. Martindell was a close second with 71 votes, followed by Mark Freda with 50 votes, and Anne Waldron Neumann, with 13 votes.

Nine of the overall voters chose to not endorse any Borough candidates.

Mr. Freda and Ms. Neumann fell much shorter in the Borough polls, with Mr. Freda receiving 27 votes, and Ms. Neumann receiving eight votes. Candidates also had to receive 50 percent of the Borough votes for endorsement.

Five Borough voters chose to not endorse a candidate.

Mr. Koontz, who was sworn into his position on Council in January, is filling out Mayor Joe O'Neill's unexpired term. He was up against Mr. Freda, Ms. Neumann, and Jenny Crumiller in the fall for his position, but ultimately was voted in by Council members because he represented "new blood."

Sunday night Mr. Koontz told voters that if he is voted into a three-year term in November, he will bring a fresh perspective to Borough issues, particularly the $21.8 million budget forecast for 2004, which will bring a 14-cent increase in taxes per $100 of assessed valuation of land.

"I think it's important to have a fresh pair of eyes looking at [the budget] ... with no strong attachment to any particular program," said Mr. Koontz.

Candidates' Focus

Mr. Martindell also said he was pleased by the number of votes he received, and said his only regret was that he did not receive enough votes to be endorsed by the PCDO.

During his brief introduction to PCDO voters, Mr. Martindell, chairman of the Borough's finance committee, said he has stood strongly against the Borough's budget for several years when his colleagues have voted in favor of it.

"I've probably voted against more municipal budgets than anyone else on Council," he said.

He said his strongest tactic on Council has been to find alternative solutions to problems and to find ways to work with other Council members even when he was at odds with their views.

Giving the Latino community a stronger voice in town is also a key issue for Mr. Martindell.

Mr. Freda said if elected his focus will be to make sure the town's perspective is more fairly represented in Council decisions.

"I have a passion for this town," said Mr. Freda. "Being on Council to me is about listening to people."

Mr. Freda previously served on Council for 13 years, but stepped down in 1999 due to work and family commitments. He told voters that he decided to run again because he was encouraged to by other residents, and because, "I think I can make a difference on Borough Council."

Mr. Freda asked that all four candidates remain in the same voting column for the June primary with no endorsements, however PCDO denied his request.

A woman of the world, Ms. Neumann has lived and taught in various countries in Europe. However the candidate started out here in the Borough, and has since returned with her family.

"While I've lived other places, I've always considered Princeton my home," she said.

A writing teacher at the Arts Council, Ms. Neumann said that although she has personal experience with the Arts Council, she has decided that expanding the facility should not be a priority in Princeton.

Affordable housing, however, should be a main concern, she said: "I'd like to research what other communities have done to tackle problems similar to Princeton's."

When candidates were questioned about their views on affordable housing, all four agreed that there is no available land left in the Borough, however over the years the municipality has done a good job of finding ways to increase affordable housing opportunities.

Mr. Martindell suggested starting a "reverse mortgage" system with existing residents who are unable to make their house payments. Under this plan, the Borough would make payments for them, and when the residents leave the area or pass away, the Borough would take ownership of the house, only paying for the remaining costs of the house that were not already paid for by the municipality.

This suggestion merited applause from audience members in the standing-room-only candidate forum.

Princeton Issues

Each Borough candidate was also asked if he or she felt Princeton University was giving enough money to the Borough.

"No matter what they give us, I'll still want them to give more," said Mr. Martindell. He said that having a large tax-exempt institution in town has created several budget problems for the Borough.

Ms. Neumann said a lack of trust between the Borough and the University has caused the institution to be wary about how much they give to the municipality.

Mr. Koontz reminded residents that the University isn't required to give money to the Borough, and said that the real issue right now is to find property tax relief.

"We need to be more fiscally responsible with any money that comes to the Borough," said Mr. Koontz.

Mr. Freda suggested working hand-in-hand with the University, and showing the school exactly where its money is used each year, a move that could prompt it to give more to the Borough.

In a separate question, Mr. Freda was asked how the current budget should be addressed. He suggested canvassing each department in the Borough to determine where cuts could be made.

"We have to set priorities for what's the most important ... and what services the public is willing to pay for," said Mr. Freda.

Both Republican and Democratic candidates have until April 12 to file petitions with municipal clerks. Voters will have the opportunity to vote for candidates during the June primary, scheduled to take place on June 8.

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