January 9, 2013

Princeton Celebrates Historic Consolidation

An overflow crowd of Princeton residents marked New Year’s Day by witnessing history in the town’s Municipal Building. On the official Day One of the merging of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, the first major consolidation in the State of New Jersey in more than a century, a celebration was centered around the swearing in of Mayor Liz Lempert and the new Princeton Council, which unanimously elected Bernie Miller as Council president at its reorganization meeting following the festivities.

Ms. Lempert asked former township mayor Richard Woodbridge, whom she ran against in the recent mayoral race, to administer the oath of office. “His being here demonstrates that this is a day for coming together,” she said in her remarks, “no matter your political persuasion or your feelings about the issues of the day or which side of the old Borough/Township line you reside.” In turn, Mr. Woodbridge said of Ms. Lempert’s request to him, “It was not only a classy gesture by a worthy and intelligent opponent. It was also an important historical symbol of reaching across the political and generational divide to all of the citizens of Princeton.”

Adding to the party atmosphere was a display of several creatively designed “consolidation cakes” donated by McCaffrey’s Market. The cakes were cut and served to the public following the installation ceremony.

There were remarks by officials involved in the complex process of consolidation, delivered to an overflow crowd that included state and county politicians as well as local residents. Anton Lahnston, who chaired the Consolidation Study Commission, began by thanking all of those involved in the nearly six decades it took to get the measure passed. He was followed by Mark Freda, who chaired the Transition Task Force after the measure was approved by voters in November 2011. “Thanks to all the citizens, both in favor and opposed,” Mr. Freda said. “Without that vigorous discussion, without the listening to and the understanding of all the different perspectives, I wonder if we would have done as good a job of arriving here as we did.”

Bob Bruschi, Princeton’s business administrator, spoke after being acknowledged by both Mr. Lahnston and Mr. Freda for his contributions. “I kind of liken the voyage we went through to the Apollo missions,” Mr. Bruschi said. “And today, ladies and gentlemen, the Eagle has landed.”

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes recalled growing up at Morven, then the governor’s mansion, when his father Richard Hughes was New Jersey’s chief executive. “I have a love affair with this town,” he said. In later years, when the family moved to a house on Westcott Road that straddled the Borough, where there was a leash law, and the Township, where there was not, there was trouble when the family dog wandered into the Borough untethered.

”So my father, the former governor of the state of New Jersey and soon to be chief justice of the State Supreme Court, had to go and defend our dog in Borough Court several times and pay several fines,” Mr. Hughes said, to laughter from the audience. “I’m glad today to see that dogs all over Princeton will not have the same” problem.”

Council members drew lots to determine the length of their terms. Lance Liverman and Heather Howard drew three years, Bernie Miller and Jo Butler drew two, and Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon drew one year. “There goes our vacation,” joked Mr. Simon’s partner Mark Weiner, who is a lawyer and swore in Mr. Simon. Other Council members, who were given the oath of office by family members, included Mr. Liverman, whose sister, attorney Bonita Leadem, did the honors; and Ms. Howard, whose husband, lawyer Hunter Labovitz, administered the oath of office.

Members of the former Borough Council who were not elected to the new Princeton Council were given an opportunity to make remarks. Yina Moore, the Borough’s most recent mayor, said she was hopeful that affordable housing issues, opposition to Assembly Bill 2586 [which would allow private universities to develop sites without municipal approval], and the question of the Morven Tract Historic District would be resolved.

Kevin Wilkes cited Congressman Rush Holt, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, and former Council member and Mercer County Freeholder Andrew Koontz as setting positive examples during his tenure. Roger Martindell noted that his mother, late politician and diplomat Anne Martindell, worked toward consolidation back in 1953. “Mom, it’s been done!” he said, looking skyward.

Ms. Lempert began the reorganization following the ceremony with a brief address. “Today is the day when we start to build a unified future as Princetonians,” she said. “When we come together and support one another we can do great things. We can turn a page and start a new chapter. What will be the story of that new chapter? Will it be a cautionary tale, or will we be a model for consolidation? There can only be one answer to that question. We will succeed.”

Ms. Lempert said that Princeton University has invited her to address its Board of Trustees later this month. In turn, she has invited the person who is chosen to succeed University president Shirley Tilghman, who is leaving in June, to address the Council in the fall.

Ms. Lempert also said she will hold “mayor’s hours” every third Thursday of the month, from 5-7 p.m., in her office at the municipal building.