November 14, 2012

Lempert, Woodbridge Reflect on Election

A week after Princeton Borough and Township residents elected Democrat Liz Lempert mayor of the newly consolidated town, Ms. Lempert and her opponent, Republican Dick Woodbridge, reflected on the race that earned Ms. Lempert 6,093 votes to Mr. Woodbridge’s 3,939. Drawing more than 10,000 voters to the polls in the wake of one of the worst storms in New Jersey’s history speaks of the importance of the race to the local population.

“It was a difficult week for pretty much everyone in town,” said Ms. Lempert. “And there were many people who had their polling places changed twice С first because of consolidation and redistricting, and then a second time because of [Superstorm] Sandy. We were worried that there would be mass confusion and frustration, but by and large things seemed to go relatively smoothly. People came out to vote even though there was a lot of storm clean-up to do. It just shows that Princeton is a community that cares and that takes its voting seriously.”

Mr. Woodbridge, a previous mayor of Princeton Township who served on Borough Council for three years, is no stranger to political campaigns. He is pleased with the way this one unfolded.

“I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “I think we ran the best campaign we could. This is the ninth time I’ve run in 36 years. I’ve won some and I’ve lost some. There are things we could have done better and things we did pretty well. What I really liked about this one was the broad-based, non-partisan nature. We showed you can run a non-partisan campaign. Clearly, there was a strong sense that this town should be non-partisan, if not in political composition at least in spirit. We saw that all across the board, and that was the biggest takeaway for me.”

Compared to some races in Princeton’s recent past, this one was “relatively clean,” Mr. Woodbridge added. “There was no real mud-slinging. We tried to stay to the arguments, and it never got personal. I have no negative personal feelings against any of the people I ran against. This is a small town and you’ve got to live with people.”

There were more supporters than Mr. Woodbridge could list in the campaign ads he ran in local newspapers. “We had a number of endorsements we couldn’t add,” he said. “It was a really nice cross-section of people representing the entire town who were supportive of my kind of campaign. What can you say? You do the best you can. And the hurricane didn’t do anybody any favors.”

Even before she takes the oath of office, Ms. Lempert is planning to meet with staff and Council members of the consolidated Princeton. “We checked with lawyers and found that it’s okay for the new Council members to start meeting before being sworn in,” she said on election night. “I would like to have a goal-setting session before the end of the year.”

Expanding on those plans this week, Ms. Lempert said she hopes this type of session will become an annual exercise. “I’ve talked about it with [Princeton administrator] Bob Bruschi, and we both think it would be a useful idea to have what is essentially a brainstorming session,” she said. “There is a lot of excitement about consolidation, and there are certainly a lot of opportunities. Eventually we have to get to every good idea, but we want to be strategic about what we try to tackle in the first year because we don’t want to pull the staff in so many different directions so that nothing gets done.”

The first order of business is likely to be ensuring that the promises of consolidation are met. “We have to do a good job tracking the savings of consolidation, and make sure that we’re looking for ways to enhance services wherever possible,” Ms. Lempert added. “One of the things that I think is going to be really important in the coming year is having excellent communications — making sure we are using all forms of media to get our message out in terms of any changes there might be. We want residents to know how to get what they need from the government in the most efficient way possible.”