Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 21
 
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
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Municipal Candidates Get Set for Primaries

Ellen Gilbert

Dilshanie Perera

The primary elections scheduled for next Tuesday, June 2, will allow voters in Princeton to select their choices for either Democratic or Republican nominees for Governor, General Assembly, members of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, and both male and female members of the State Committee.

Borough Democrats will be able to choose two of three candidates, Jenny Crumiller, Mendy Fisch, and Kevin Wilkes, all of whom are running for three-year seats on the Common Council, to appear on the ballot in November. No petitions have been filed for Borough Republican candidates for Council.

In the Township, with no other candidates running against them, Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner and Committeewoman Liz Lempert are assured of spaces on the ballot for seats on Township Committee. If unopposed in November, Mr. Goerner will be serving another three-year term, while Ms. Lempert will serve one year of an unexpired term.

In the gubernatorial races, Borough and Township voters can choose between seven candidates. Democrats include incumbent Jon S. Corzine, Carl A. Bergmanson, Roger Bacon, and Jeff Boss. Republican candidates for governor are Rick Merkt, Chris Christie, and Steven M. Lonegan. The governor serves for four years.

The other primary races see the Democratic and Republican candidates running unopposed.

While current Borough Council member Margaret Karcher has dropped out of the primary race, Ms. Crumiller, Mr. Fisch, and Mr. Wilkes are all vying for the two spaces on the ballot in November. Their respective websites can be found at jennycrumiller.com, mendyfisch.org, and kevinwilkes.com.

Jenny Crumiller

Ms. Crumiller is running on a platform of greater transparency in governmental processes, police accountability, fiscal efficiency, and assessing the viability of municipal consolidation.

Regarding consolidation, Ms. Crumiller said, “We need some leadership in the Borough on that issue …. Establishing a real working committee to set the stage for electing or appointing a consolidation study commission” would be the first step. Furthermore, the state is offering a financial incentive for municipalities to undertake a study, she added, noting that such a report “would let us know definitively whether consolidation is a cost-saver.”

“One of the reasons I’m interested in consolidation is that it seems like a smarter way to spend money. I’m interested in looking at the budget, and looking for innovation,” Ms. Crumiller remarked, emphasizing that the financial experts in the community might be able to find increased cost savings that have heretofore flown under the radar. “Too few town residents actually work on the budget document,” she observed.

Involving more people in government is part of the plan. “It makes sense to capitalize on our assets and human resources. And better communication is certainly the key to that,” Ms. Crumiller said.

A citizen advisory committee and an open applications process would facilitate the exchange, and Ms. Crumiller added she would like to see more student involvement as well.

Since moving to Princeton, Ms. Crumiller has been involved in her neighborhood, the schools, and local, as well as national politics. She was the President of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) from 2006 to 2008.

Mendy Fisch

The youngest of the three candidates, Mr. Fisch is a sophomore at Princeton University, and has been a Borough resident for the past 20 years. His interest in local government was something that developed over time, and solidified while he was covering Borough Council meetings last year for the Daily Princetonian, the campus newspaper.

“There are a number of issues facing the town that I feel strongly about, particularly consolidation,” Mr. Fisch said. “It is great that Borough Council enacted a zero percent tax increase this year, but the real long term sustainable solution will only come when the Borough and Township pursue consolidation.”

Citing increasing expenses, like school taxes, and parking fees, Mr. Fisch noted, “The negative effects of not being consolidated are still being passed onto residents, and are hurting businesses.”

The most recent study on Borough-Township consolidation, undertaken in 1996, said that the average decline in budget expenses would be about 17 percent, Mr. Fisch said, noting that in the present day, the amount would probably be greater.

Regarding part of his support base, Mr. Fisch noted that “there are a lot of institutional barriers for students voting in this election,” pointing out that the school year has ended, and that many students have already left campus.

Mr. Fisch and members of his campaign registered students to vote and encouraged almost 400 of them to request absentee ballots so that they could still vote in spite of having left campus.

Getting students to follow through on their absentee voting is another matter, and Mr. Fisch acknowledged that he is unsure what the response will be. “Nonetheless, I’m hopeful about the turnout in town, and with residents, especially since many people feel the same way I do about consolidation, affordable housing, the neighborhood, and students.”

Kevin Wilkes

Incumbent Kevin Wilkes noted that his positions as local business owner (of Princeton Design Guild), architect, and “community arts instigator,” give him a unique perspective on Borough Council.

His goal is to identify further cost-savings within the Borough, and potential streams of revenue for future years’ budgets. Mentioning the zero-cent tax increase Council passed this year, Mr. Wilkes said, “I’m certain we’ll try the same thing again next year, and I am certain next year will be harder...but I believe every year we should make it our goal to keep taxes at the level they have been.”

“Two areas in which I see significant savings deal with the unification of the municipal police forces,” Mr. Wilkes remarked, calling police consolidation a “good deal for the public.”

“The police chiefs themselves believe you could have a force in the low-50s, whereas right now the Township is at 31 employees, and the Borough is at 35,” he reported.

Capital expenditures for the police force, and particularly vehicle expenditures, are another site of potential savings. Currently, police vehicles are phased out after logging 40,000 miles, and Mr. Wilkes suggested that police cars be allowed to age in the fleet a bit longer.

Calling the two public works departments another potential area for municipal agency consolidation, Mr. Wilkes noted it would make sense to combine the police forces first before tackling other areas. Once that is done, “it will be very obvious to the citizenry to see how we might approach the consolidation issue, and if we manage it well, the people will support it.”

“If we actually want to create efficiency and savings for the taxpayers, we should start that right away,” he added.

As a graduate of Princeton University, Mr. Wilkes has lived in town “more or less for the past 25 years.”

“My goal is to better navigate and better mediate and discuss those areas of friction between the University, community, and area officials,” Mr. Wilkes said.

One of those areas is the Arts and Transit Neighborhood, which Mr. Wilkes noted he is “fully in favor of” but doesn’t believe the Dinky station should be moved further from downtown.

“I have a deep respect for the University’s mission,” Mr. Wilkes pointed out, adding “I seek to break through the insulation, and explain to the University elders the needs of the public, and to have the public understand the legitimate needs of the University to grow and expand.”

Mr. Wilkes’s political career kicked off when he was in high school working for a democratic congressional candidate in 1974 on outreach to the Latino community in Elizabeth (Mr. Wilkes is bilingual, and fluent in Spanish). His political engagement continued into college, working as the campus coordinator for Senator Harrison Williams’s campaign in 1976, but when Williams was indicted, Mr. Wilkes’s enthusiasm for politics waned, because “how I move ethically through the world is critical, and it seemed to me that politics would not be the avenue to lead an ethical life.”

So Mr. Wilkes pursued his parallel interest in architecture exclusively until working on the Writers’ Block project in town, and becoming intrigued by the idea of “volunteer, grassroots public improvement.” The idea of running for local government cropped up then, and “burned as brightly as it did 30 years ago.”

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Letters regarding the primary election can be found in the “Mailbox” section of this issue of Town Topics.

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