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Monument Lit as Mayor Recovers

Matthew Hersh

As nearly 60 municipal officials, volunteers, and assorted residents gathered at dusk Sunday to witness the temporary lighting of the Revolutionary War Monument, the man who said one of his goals as mayor was to see the monument permanently lit could not be present.
Mayor Joseph O’Neill was resting comfortably at home after a routine electrocardiogram 12 days ago showed that he had experienced a heart attack, the 71-year-old mayor said in an interview Thursday.
The mayor, who is also undergoing treatment as he battles leukemia, had been absent from Borough Council and Regional Planning Board meetings in recent weeks. Mr. O’Neill said last week that he wanted to attend Sunday evening’s event, depending on how he felt. During the ceremony, members of Council offered him well-wishes, confident about his return to duty.
Council President Mildred Trotman, who filled in for Mr. O’Neill at the past two Council hearings, also presided over the event that honored Borough volunteers.

On Thursday, Mr. O’Neill quickly brushed off any doubt that he would return to govern and praised the efforts underway to get the monument permanently lit.

“It’s going to spruce up not just the area around the Borough Hall, but what it really does is extend the reach of Nassau Street and helps local businesses as people will be more willing to wander further down as they see the monument lit.”

This is the second attempt to bring light to the monument. Some twelve years ago, then-Mayor Marvin Reed, who was on-hand for Sunday’s event, tried to get the monument lit, but at the time, the state would not include lighting in its cleaning plans. The monument is slated to undergo a six-month, state-run cleaning project beginning in spring 2006.

“Over the years, all of us on Council have commented on just how impressive the monument would be if it were illuminated,” said Ms. Trotman.

Mr. O’Neill has orchestrated a campaign to cover the price tag of approximately $125,000.

Some of the funds have already been committed through the Princeton Parks Alliance: a newly-formed not-for-profit organization, spearheaded in part by Councilman Andrew Koontz, that aims to serve as a parks advocacy group and to recruit volunteers to help improve the Borough’s existing parks, particularly those that do not necessarily serve as venues for sporting events: so-called “passive-use” parks.

In addition to contributing to the monument lighting effort, the Alliance has set its sights on improving Harrison Street Park and Pine Street Park. Mr. Koontz also indicated that Quarry Park, lodged between Spruce Circle and Spruce Street, would also be examined by the Alliance.
But none of that could be achieved, Mr. Koontz said, without the assistance of volunteers.

“Princeton obviously runs on volunteer effort, and if there weren’t a volunteer effort, we simply wouldn’t get anything done at all,” he said.

Mr. Koontz lauded the mayor’s initiative (“the mayor is a man of great ideas”) and pointed to the obvious symbolism behind the effort using a familiar analogy, mentioning that while ideas are often represented by light bulbs, this one actually uses them.

Former Mayor Reed recalled the evolution of what is known as Monument Park. When Borough Hall was redone in the 1990s, part of the plan was to landscape the area facing the monument, which, up until then, had been a driveway for traffic to and from Borough Hall. The park was finally completed in 2001.

The natural next step, Mr. Reed said, was to get the monument lit: “We’re figuring out how to make this into a usable park, because a lot of visitors come here to see it.”

Polly Burlingham, a member of the Borough’s Shade Tree Commission and member of the Parks Alliance, predicted that this initial effort would facilitate increased volunteerism in Princeton.

“I see this project as being the first of many improvements to our parks. I hope this will inspire people to take our parks seriously and realize that they need a little more attention on a personal basis,” she said.


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