When Mildred Trotman took the dais as mayor with the unanimous support from her colleagues on Princeton Borough Council, there was little fanfare.
After the death of Mayor Joseph O'Neill last month, then Council President Trotman was as an instant frontrunner to fill the vacant position: she was, after all, the longest-serving member of Council (nearly 21 years), a champion of women and minority causes throughout Mercer County and the state, and had served as Council president for eight combined years as well as presiding in the mayor's absence.
She downplays the fact that she is only the second female, and first black mayor of the Borough: as she has said in the past, color and chromosomes are notable, but in this case, they have largely proven to be "non-issues," and she is right.
Ms. Trotman, 64, posed Thursday for the official mayoral portrait that will eventually hang next to the portraits of mayors who have preceded her, and she later said that she hoped this succession will go as smoothly as those in the past.
"There's so much on our plate, that if we can resolve some of the issues and projects that we are dealing with right now, that would be a major accomplishment," she said at an interview Friday in her office at Borough Hall.
"I would just like to continue to make the Borough run as smoothly as I think it's operating right now --- that would be a big plus to me."
Ms. Trotman inherits a Borough that is riding a perceived high in 2005. In May, it made good on its promise to keep its $22 million budget just under the 2004 level that saw historic increases in municipal taxes; and it dealt with the the daunting task of heeding the new state requirements for affordable housing with ease by getting an early jump on establishing a blueprint for compliance. A strong proponent of affordable housing and a member of the Borough's Affordable Housing Board since being first elected to Council, the mayor said compliance is the biggest hurdle.
Ms. Trotman is also uncommonly equipped to assess a number of Borough issues with a perspective that few on Council, or in the community, offer. She was first elected to Council at the end of the 14-year tenure of Mayor Bob Cawley, and subsequently served through the administrations of Mayors Barbara Sigmund, Marvin Reed, and Joseph O'Neill.
While learning from the mayors under whom she served, Ms. Trotman has typically exercised the role of the moderate on Council, assessing all sides of an issue before offering a statement.
Ms. Sigmund ran an open, informal type of government, much like that of Mr. Reed, Ms. Trotman said, but Mr. O'Neill's style differed: he moved meetings along, never letting debates get out of hand. "But it didn't take away from the informal, open, transparent form of government.
"If you have something to say, you don't have to wait three weeks from now to get it on the agenda," she said, adding that she intended to continue that approach.
"Where change is necessary, we will make change, but I think we're doing okay."
Besides her tenure on the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, a seat that she will again assume now that she is mayor, she was a member of the Princeton Health Care Task Force, the band of municipal officials assembled to analyze and offer recommendations for the site to be vacated by the University Medical Center at Princeton.
In regard to the hospital, Ms. Trotman said that she rejected the idea of the hospital expanding on site.
"I was one of only three signatures that felt that the hospital needed to grow; the hospital needed to come up to code and I personally didn't feel that it could do that on the footprint on which it sat."
Further, once she takes her seat on the Planning Board, presumably in January, she will likely have a vote on how the hospital site is zoned. And if she pursues additional terms as mayor (she vowed to seek a one-year special term through January 2008 and said she would then seek a full, four-year term beginning after that), she could have a vote on any future development there as well.
"I really do think it's important the mayor sits on the Planning Board," she said, adding that while she was reluctant to rejoin the Board after her previous nine-year tenure, it was important for Council to have an insight on planning issues. Councilwomen Wendy Benchley also sits on the Planning Board. "Planning Board members are always more informed" when it comes to the minutiae, Ms. Trotman said.
The mayor also said that because the Planning Board is regional, serving on it helps create a bridge between the Borough and Princeton Township that is all the more necessary in order to strengthen the often-troubled relationship the between the two municipalities.
"I think the Township and the Borough agree on far more issues than they disagree," adding that the 17 joint agencies between the two towns is evidence of that.
But the mayor did concede that over the past several years, particularly since municipal consolidation was last defeated in 1996, a certain "tension" has been evident.
While Township voters overwhelmingly supported consolidation at the time, Borough voters shut down the proposition by about 350 votes, with Council members Trotman and David Goldfarb, who was elected to a sixth term on Council last week, among those who did not support consolidation at the time. Ms. Trotman also cited issues pertaining to the library and the garage as some points of conflict with Township Committee.
"I don't know if I support consolidation now any more than I did then, but I think eventually, we will back door into it."
The only three major municipal departments in the Borough and Township that are not bridged are police, administration, and public works, and Ms. Trotman said the next step should be to explore combining Princeton's police departments, an issue that has become increasingly high-profile over the last several years. In the wake of the Township's recent discussion of police force reduction, the mayor said now would be a good time to continue to explore that prospect.
"I'm thinking that this might be a good time --- but we have not discussed it," she said, adding that two municipalities are currently exploring joint dispatch services for emergency vehicles and first responders.
During his one-and-a-half-year tenure as mayor, Mr. O'Neill was successful in creating some in-roads with Princeton University. Over the years, the Borough and the University have been involved in a complex relationship that often results in the Borough requesting more monetary contributions from the University. As a result, the University has been able to enhance its infrastructure, and increase activity in town. While the two entities clearly benefit from one another, Ms. Trotman said it is not "unreasonable" to seek more from the University financially, citing that as one of her objectives as mayor.
"The University has been kind; I have said it before and I'll say it again. I just don't think it's been kind enough," she said, pointing to a scenario last week that placed University representatives before Borough Council as they sought zoning that would increase the development capacity around the University's Engineering Quadrangle.
At that hearing, Councilman Roger Martindell suggested that the University should consider increasing its annual contribution, a concept that Ms. Trotman said she did "not disagree with.
"How much more traffic do we get in this town because of the University? It is true that the traffic brings in business to our restaurants, our hotels, our shops, which is good for the Borough.
"But it also brings that predicted number of people in town everyday who just use our roads and leave. All I'm saying is let's just work together --- my first concern here is the Princeton Borough taxpayer."
As Ms. Trotman was sworn in last week accompanied by her two children, son Marvin Jr., daughter Sheryl, and grandson Marvin III, she said she was "truly, truly honored" to be selected to the post.
Even Marvin III, quoted through his grandmother, said the fact that she is mayor is exciting.
"When I tell him I'm mayor, he just says: 'Cool Nana, cool.'"
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