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Vol. LXV, No. 44
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
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Republican Mayoral Candidate Jachera Says Race Is Not About Party Loyalty

Anne Levin

Jill Jachera majored in political science at Penn State University. But she never intended to go into politics.

“It was for the purpose of going to law school,” the Republican candidate for Princeton Borough mayor said in an interview last week. “I never had political aspirations. I have always been pretty turned off by the lack of focus on the issues, and the way things can degrade into pettiness. I’m pretty much of a no-nonsense person, and that wasn’t something that appealed to me.”

But once she retired from her position as an attorney with Morgan, Lewis, & Bockius after 23 years, Ms. Jachera found herself with time to focus on issues affecting Princeton, the town to which she and her husband had moved 17 years earlier. Colleagues who knew her from her work as board president of the Princeton YWCA suggested she consider running for mayor, and it took her about a month and a half to take them up on the challenge.

“I took the decision very seriously,” she said. “It has to be done correctly, especially if consolidation passes. I wanted to make sure that I understood as much as I could about what the role would entail. I also wanted to gain an understanding of what kind of support someone who found themselves running on the Republican ticket in Princeton would need. It was certainly an uphill battle I’d be facing. But very early on, I was able to gain some Democratic support — some publicly, and some not.”

The first Republican to be on the ballot in 12 years, Ms. Jachera, who supports consolidation, acknowledges that bringing Democrats over to the Republican column in the voting booth is a challenge. But this race is not about party loyalty, she said. “I think that anyone who is independent-thinking and focuses on the issues can see that it would be unfortunate to discount a candidate merely because of their identification with a particular party,” she said. “My own voting record has always been about the issues. I have voted Republican and Democratic throughout my life. I have supported both through contributions.”

If consolidation is approved by Princeton voters on November 8, an election will be held in a year to determine who will be mayor of the newly combined entity. While she would hope to win that election, it would not be the focus of her first year in office should she win next week. “I have often said I am committed from transitioning up through consolidation, and that, rather than getting re-elected, would be my primary focus next year,” Ms. Jachera said. “Consolidation done badly would be bad for the community. It can be a stellar example, if done well, for the rest of the state. Nobody wants to go through consolidation and have Princeton be the bad example.”

Should the measure not pass, Ms. Jachera would focus her attention on addressing the Borough’s 2012 budget, specifically the issue of property taxes. Mending the often contentious relationship between Princeton University and the Borough would be another priority of her administration.

“I think there is an unfortunate attitude of vilifying the University and questioning their every motive,” she said. “Statements like ‘We’ve been deceived at every turn’ by Council member Jo Butler have put us on this collision course. They are our largest taxpayer, our largest employer, and the only non-profit that has the potential of making substantial contributions to our community. It’s a waste of time. We’re not focusing on a strategy that’s working. You have to be able to put yourselves in the shoes of the other entity.”

Ms. Jachera learned to do just that, she said, while serving as board president of the YWCA and working to reduce animosity between that board and the one governing the YMCA. “There had been some tension, and we finally realized it was ridiculous, that we had to move forward for our mutual benefit. We began by getting to know the board members from a personal basis,” she said. “Secondly, we engaged in a strategic planning process with a moderator. That allowed both of our organizations to better understand the other’s missions. We had a common goal. It wasn’t emotional. From there, we were able to move into a phase where we could brainstorm, a safe environment to throw out ideas.

“I think this model could be productive in working with the University,” she continued. “I have worked with them on behalf of the YWCA, and have had involvement with them on the purchase of Merwick. So I have had experience in negotiating with Mr. Durkee [vice-president and secretary of the University]. I think he knows my leadership style and negotiating style, and our past experience in that vein will be helpful in opening up that dialogue.”

While she doesn’t favor the University’s proposal to move the Dinky 460 feet south to make room for its arts complex project, Ms. Jachera says that in the interest of moving forward, she supports the plan. “My legal opinion, based on looking at the documents, is that they do have the right to move it,” she said. “Borough council actually hired and paid a lawyer with tax dollars to get this opinion, and now some of them are questioning that. How do you ignore legal advice you have sought and paid for as a council? That, to me, is completely irresponsible as a fiduciary of this community.”

Accepting the inevitability of the plan is key, she said. “You’re doing a disservice if you end up with the Dinky moving and no arts center, a lawsuit, and a University that isn’t going to be predisposed to increasing the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program if they’re using money on suing us. I can empathize with the frustration of the University and I empathize with the frustration of the community. But at this point, local government has done an abysmal job of figuring out a strategy that is going to work with the University. I say this but I commend Kevin Wilkes, Barbara Trelstad and Roger Martindell for pursuing and improving the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).”

Campaigning for the office of Borough mayor has been an honor, Ms. Jachera concluded. “It has been invigorating and encouraging to see the support I’ve gained from independent thinkers willing to embrace good leadership in our local government,” she said. “There have been some personal attacks on me that have been nonsense, quite frankly, and not anything that has caused me personal hurt. But to the extent that they’ve distracted voters, that’s unfortunate. I’m proud I have been able to run an issue-based campaign that has united Democrats, Republicans, and independents. I really think that’s the only way we’re going to be able to move forward and address the challenges we have before us.”

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