March 21, 2012

Candidates Dismiss Conflicts of Interest, Advise Use of Report

In addition to the fact that they both aspire to be the Democratic nominee for mayor of the municipality that will be created when the Princetons consolidate, Liz Lempert and Kevin Wilkes probably have more in common than not.

Both, for example, are very clear about the fact that in their current positions (he is a Borough Council member and she is a member of Township Committee as well as deputy mayor) and, as a potential mayor, there is no conflict of interest between their personal lives and their obligations as an elected official.

Ms. Lempert, whose husband, Ken Norman is a professor of psychology at Princeton University, does not anticipate that this connection will be a problem. “I don’t see it as being an issue,” she said in a recent interview. “There have been previous mayors of the Borough who’ve been in similar situations,” she added, citing the late Borough Mayor, Barbara Sigmund, whose husband, Paul, taught at the University during her time in office. Ms. Lempert noted that her husband “doesn’t represent University administration,” and half jokingly pointed to the fact that he is tenured.

Although she has recused herself from Township Committee votes relating to University issues in the past, Ms. Lempert believes that as an “advocate for the people” she will put her mayoral responsibilities first.

As an architect who has lived in Princeton for many years, Mr. Wilkes reports that he has “worked out grid rules” for avoiding conflicts of interest. These include not taking on any commercial projects, and never working for the University. “I just fix up people’s homes,” he said.

Ms. Lempert and Mr. Wilkes also appear to be in agreement about the tack that the Transition Task Force should be following. Noting that the “base issues” have been covered by the Consolidation Commission’s final report, Mr. Wilkes believes that the Task Force should “follow that score.” Beyond that, he added, “we should improvise.”

“We need to use it as a blueprint,” said Ms. Lempert of the Commission’s report. She pointed to “time constraints” that kept the Commission from working out “every possible problem,” and agreed that it would be okay to follow up on any problems or good new ideas that may arise. In the meantime, she added, setting “out to rewrite the report” is unacceptable.

As for their respective strengths, Ms. Lempert pointed to her good listening skills and ability to keep an open mind. Being deputy mayor of the Township since January has allowed her to participate on the Finance Committee, whose work. she said, “is particularly critical as we head into consolidation.” She pointed to the importance of “being on the same page” as the Borough regarding budgets and long-term financial planning. She is happy to pinch-hit for Mayor Chad Goerner when necessary, but wryly allowed that she could not stand in for him in the annual Longbeard Contest on St. Patrick’s Day.

Noting the difficulty of working with “unyielding” players, Mr. Wilkes sounded a note of pragmatism in discussing the hot-button issue of the Dinky location. While the Dinky move appears to him to be inevitable, he described turning it into something positive over the next five years by creating a streetcar system that would connect downtown Princeton to the new Dinky location.

Both Ms. Lempert and Mr. Wilkes have issued statements detailing their positions. They are available online at