2014: A Year of Changes, Protests, and Demonstrations
Princeton experienced another year of change in 2014 as demolition at the old hospital site on Witherspoon Street began and the new Dinky station opened despite controversy over its move. The town has become even more of a “tourist destination” with tour buses stopping frequently on Nassau Street and an upswing in tourism for the fourth year in a row. The Special Olympics came to town. And the Dalai Lama spoke to the community at the invitation of Princeton University, which also received Al Gore on Class Day.
It was a year of worrying health concerns and of upset in the Princeton Public Schools; a year of protests and demonstrations.
Last winter’s frequent snow storms caused havoc on Princeton’s roads. No sooner had they been cleared, more snow arrived. Sgt. Bucchere of the Princeton Police Department described the icy conditions as “unprecedented in his career.” Princeton’s school children had so many snow days that the Board of Education had to add several days to the end of the school year. Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane, who took up his post in January, had to deal with so many delayed openings and snow days. He reported spending a great deal more time that he expected watching The Weather Channel.
Princeton Public Schools
Storms of a different kind were to come to the school district, for which 2014 would not be a happy year. Members of the Board of Education and the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) locked horns during negotiations that have yet to conclude with a new contract. The long drawn out talks are reminiscent of those that resulted in the 2011-2014 contract, which required mediation and took almost a year to negotiate. This (expired) contract remained in place at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
In May, teachers marched along Witherspoon Street and distributed flyers to parents to highlight their case. On June 30, they marched in front of the district offices on Valley Road carrying hand-lettered placards expressing their case for increased pay and health benefits. But in spite of hopes expressed by both sides in meetings over the summer, a state-appointed mediator had to be called in. Things had gotten so bad that members of the PREA negotiating team walked out of the October 2 bargaining session.
Negotiations stalled repeatedly over the issues of health care and salary increases, and a profound disagreement over the intent and impact of NJ law Chapter 78.
As yet, mediation has failed to bring the two sides to a new contract. The next mediated session is due on Wednesday, January 14.
Teachers were not the only unhappy employees. Food service workers went on a one-day strike in November, claiming that the new company, Nutri-Serve, which was hired by the district to provide food for students and staff had taken away their health insurance and sick day benefits. The 20 food service workers, many of whom have been in Princeton schools for years, went back to work and subsequently met with Nutri-Serve representatives.
Still, there was some good news concerning the district in 2014. In May, U.S. News and World Report ranked Princeton High School (PHS) among the top 10 Best High Schools of New Jersey for 2014. PHS earned Gold Medal status in the media report Best High Schools of 2014, coming in at number 10 of 398 high schools in the state. Nationally, PHS is ranked at number 216 in the list of more than 19,400 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
PHS was listed number 91 in the list of the 250 high schools across the nation that are listed as the Best in terms of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Two years into consolidation, Princeton’s government is making progress on the road to merging the policies and ordinances of the former Borough and Township. State law requires the town to finish the process by the end of 2017. According to Mayor Liz Lempert, nearly all of the harmonization of the general ordinances covering administration, boards, committees and commissions has been completed, along with shade tree and historic preservation ordinances.
“In 2015 we will tackle the parking ordinances and some of the other land use ordinances,” she said, reflecting on the end of a busy year. “Reviewing all the ordinances has been a time-intensive, but useful exercise, and a way for Council to
update our laws to reflect best practices. I especially want to thank the members of the ordinance review subcommittee — Bernie Miller, Jo Butler and Jenny Crumiller — for their work in reviewing the ordinances that come before Council, as well as members of the Planning Board, Historic Preservation Commission, and Shade Tree Commission for their valuable input.”
Not all was harmonious at Witherspoon Hall this year. In January, Council President Bernie Miller and Sue Nemeth — both former Township Committee members — announced their plans to run as a slate in the June primary. Backed by Mayor Lempert, Council members Heather Howard and Lance Liverman, the slate was an effort to oust Councilwoman Jo Butler from her seat.
Ms. Butler, a former Borough Council member, was perceived by some as a deterrent to getting things done because of her tendency to ask hard questions. In the end, Ms. Butler won more votes than Ms. Nemeth, and she and Mr. Miller kept their seats on the Council.
Longtime municipal administrator Bob Bruschi retired in October after 15 years of service to Princeton. Mr. Bruschi was credited with engineering numerous initiatives and projects throughout his tenure. Many expected that Kathy Monzo, the town’s assistant administrator and director of finance, would get Mr. Bruschi’s job. But in the end it went to Marc Dashield, former township manager for Montclair. Mr. Dashield’s first day of work was October 27.
Also new to the administration this year was Jeffrey Grosser, who took over from interim health officer Bob Hary in April. Between the ongoing issues created by the demolition of the former Princeton Hospital to issues surrounding the Ebola virus, meningitis on the Princeton University campus, rabid bats, and an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness after Thanksgiving, Mr. Grosser has had his work cut out for him.
Council gave Princeton Fire and Rescue Squad (PFARS) the go-ahead in April to build a new headquarters on the site of the former public works facility at the intersection of Valley Road, Witherspoon Street, and Route 206. Since 1964, the squad has been operating out of a brick building on North Harrison Street that is too small to handle the demands of the growing town.
Mr. Bruschi and PFARS president Mark Freda were instrumental in developing a land swap in which the squad has a long-term lease on the new site. The town will continue to own the land. In turn, the municipality gets the land on PFARS’ current Harrison Street property, which also includes two adjacent houses.
The plan to turn the former Princeton Hospital site into a complex of 280 rental apartments continued to spark controversy this year, but the demolition of the old hospital finally got underway in September. Local residents and labor union representatives worried about safety made their concerns known at a Council meetings early in the year, inspiring the governing body to hire an independent licensed state remediation professional to ensure public safety during the process.
It wasn’t enough to mollify some local residents, eight of whom filed an appeal to the Planning Board’s 2013 decision to approve developer AvalonBay’s revised plan for the site. The suit named the municipality, the Planning Board, the Mayor, Council, and AvalonBay as defendants. But Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled against the lawsuit, and Princeton HealthCare System announced that the sale to AvalonBay had been completed in March.
A month later, AvalonBay balked when Council voted unanimously to approve a developer’s agreement that required additional environmental testing based on the recommendations of the independent consultant. The developer sued the town, the Council, and Mayor Lempert in May. In July, Judge Jacobson rejected AvalonBay’s attempt to order the town to sign off on a demolition plan and issue building permits. The judge ordered mediation instead to see if the issues could be ironed out. In August, another revised agreement with less environmental testing was finally approved, clearing the way for demolition to begin.
Completion of the demolition is expected in the next two months, weather permitting. Residents have been keeping a close eye on the process, making frequent calls to the town to complain about noise and air quality. While the town’s engineering director Bob Kiser has issued weekly reports to keep the public informed, some have complained that the town’s handling of demolition-related problems has been reactive rather than proactive. Crews are working east to west toward Witherspoon Street on the buildings that made up the former hospital complex.
Construction of the University’s $330 million Arts and Transit project continued this year with the opening of a new traffic circle in January and the inauguration of the new Dinky station and Wawa market in November. Efforts by the organization Save the Dinky to halt the move of the train station 460 feet south of its former location also continued. Lawsuits questioning the legality of the contract between NJ Transit and the University are still moving through the judicial system.
Princeton Council passed a seven-year agreement in April under which the University will make voluntary unrestricted financial contributions to the municipality of $21.72 million. The tax deal also requires the University to make one-time contributions valued at $2.59 million to several specific projects. The University also agreed to donate to the municipality the parking lot it owns on Franklin Avenue, which is estimated to be valued at approximately $1 million.
University faculty voted in September to revise its policies on sexual misconduct and the way allegations are handled. The changes brought the school into compliance with the Violence Against Women Act, which Congress authorized in March, and with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational institutions that get federal funding.
The University made national news with a prolonged outbreak of serogroup B meningococcal disease (meningitis) in March, prompting the Centers for Disease Control to import emergency vaccines to be given on campus. Seven students were infected. The strain contracted by the students is unique to this country, which meant there were no FDA-approved vaccines to fight it here. Approval came quickly to import the vaccine from Europe and Australia.
Also drawing attention was a fall incident at the University’s Tiger Inn eating club, in which two student officers resigned following allegations that photos of an intoxicated female student performing a sexual act on another student were distributed to club members via email. Another email that went out to club members referred to an October talk on campus by Sally Frank, who gained notoriety as a student when she sued the eating clubs to force the admission of women. “Come tomorrow and help boo Sally Frank,” the email read. The words “Rape Haven” were spray-painted on the stone wall at the front of the building, but were quickly removed.
The Princeton Police Department began 2014 by successfully completing the voluntary process necessary for state accreditation, a highly-prized recognition in law enforcement. All aspects of the new department’s operations were examined. This was the first accreditation for the department since it was formed through consolidation of Princeton Township and Borough police.
Under Acting Chief of Police Nicholas K. Sutter, who had been leading the department since the departure of former Chief David Dudeck in February 2913, Princeton’s police officers received training in the handling of immigration status with respect to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) laws. In March, it was announced that officers would not enforce immigration laws, a decision commended by Police Commissioner Heather Howard who described it as building trust between the department and members of Princeton’s immigrant community. The question of undocumented status had brought to the fore the problem of wage theft, a crime that takes advantage of people with undocumented status.
As had been anticipated, Mr. Sutter was appointed to lead the department in April by unanimous vote of Mayor Liz Lempert and members of the Princeton Council. Mr. Sutter, 43, was the only person being considered for the chief’s job. He had served with the Borough of Princeton before consolidation. His appointment was recognized with a standing ovation at Witherspoon Hall.
Other changes in the department came with the retirement of Press Information Officer Mike Cifelli, the officer credited with introducing the department to social media. Sgt. Cifelli, who graduated from the Camden County Police Academy in 1988, was hired by the Princeton Township Police Department in 1993.
Also this year, the department acquired its first K9 Unit. K9 Officer Harris, a 16-month-old Czech Shepherd, who graduated from the New Jersey State Police K9 Academy with handler Corporal Matthew Solovay, served his first day of active duty on Friday, June 13. K9 Harris is named in remembrance of Princeton Borough Police Officer Walter B. Harris, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on February 2, 1946.
In August, Dashawn J. Cribb, 25, and Donald Stephen Mathews, 36, joined the department as the first new hires since consolidation:
Due in part to the efforts of Princeton’s Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson, Michael G. Rosenberg, the former Birch Avenue resident charged with animal cruelty, received the maximum five year sentence in October. Mr. Rosenberg, also a registered sex-offender, was charged with causing the death of a three-year old female German Shepherd mix named Shyanne which had been left in his care for training purposes
Pi Day Events
Founded by Mimi Omiecinski in recognition of Princeton’s most famous resident and the happy coincidence that Albert Einstein’s March 14, or 3/14, birthday matches the first three digits of the mathematical constant Pi, Pi Day has grown each year since it began in 2009 to include local merchants, the Historical Society of Princeton, the Princeton Public Library, and scores of clubs, groups, academic institutions, non-profits, musicians, authors, and interested locals.
This year’s event included a new Princeton Pi pizza competition judged by Mayor Liz Lempert and Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane as well as tours, talks, a Pi recitation contest, an apple pie contest, a pie-throwing contest, and a Dinky ride with Albert Einstein (or at least someone who looked just like him).
Year of the Bicycle
The town’s active Princeton Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) joined in the Pi Day celebrations with a demonstration of the scientific phenomenon of synchronicity. The seven-member committee comprised of Princeton residents Karen Jezierny, Steve Kruse, Laurie Harmon, David Cohen, Carolyn Sealfon, Anita Jeerage, and Sam Bunting gathered bike riders of all ages for a ride around Community Park South (wearing helmets and safety lights of course). Participants were fitted with flashing gadgets that synchronized by means of a radio transceiver in an effect known as the Kuramoto Model, named after Japanese physicist Yoshiki Kuramoto.
In December Princeton University launched a new bike sharing program from the new Dinky station. Run by Zagster, the program began with just ten bicycles. It is hoped that it will ultimately take off and be extended to the community at large.
In August, after two bats taken from two homes on Linden Lane had tested positive for rabies virus, Princeton’s Health Officer Jeffrey C. Grosser warned residents, especially those in the Linden Lane area, to keep a safe distance and call the Princeton Police Department or the Animal Control Officer if they discovered bats inside their homes.
The death of Mercer County preschooler four-year-old Eli Waller from the Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) prompted the office of Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes to release a statement offering support and coordination in response to infectious disease outbreaks.
Representatives of local hospitals, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), municipal health offices, emergency management, emergency communications, and universities and colleges, as well as epidemiologists from the New Jersey Department of Health, met with the Mercer County health officer in late August to raise awareness and ensure countywide communication among first responders with respect to this virus and the Ebola virus. And Princeton’s Public Health Officer Jeffrey Grosser worked in coordination with Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane and the District’s Director of Plant Operations Gary Weisman to ensure cleaning protocols already in place were up-to-date for such viruses as EV-D68.
The world’s concerns with respect to the Ebola virus were brought home to Princeton in October when resident Dr. Nancy Snyderman was flown back from Liberia where she had been reporting on the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia.
The NBC News Chief Medical Editor and Correspondent had placed herself under voluntary quarantine with her crew after a cameraman on her team tested positive for the disease. The co-worker was treated at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and has fully recovered.
Ms. Snyderman had agreed to a voluntary 21-day quarantine at her home in Princeton. But after she and members of her crew were spotted in a vehicle outside the Peasant Grill restaurant in Hopewell as they waited for a take-out lunch order, the quarantine was mandated by the State and members of the public were outraged. The news prompted calls for Ms. Snyderman to resign.
Ms. Snyderman, 62, subsequently issued an apology via a statement read during the NBC Nightly News broadcast by Anchorman Brian Williams. In her first television appearance since the quarantine break, on the Today Show with host Matt Lauer, Ms. Snyderman apologized for “scaring my community” by violating the self-imposed quarantine after exposure to the Ebola virus.
Just a few weeks ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved a project by the Williams Transcontinental, or Transco, company to build a 42-inch pipeline through sections of the Princeton Ridge. The approval, which resident activists of the Princeton Ridge Coalition expected, came after a second year of meetings and negotiations between the company and the local group about safety and harm to the environment.
Last August, FERC did an environmental assessment of the project and decided that approving the plan “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” a conclusion disputed by the Coalition and environmental groups. The company met with the Coalition and the town’s engineering director to develop a revised construction plan that paid attention to construction issues.
FERC’s recent approval of the project drew harsh criticism from officials of the New Jersey Sierra Club. The Coalition is currently reviewing FERC’s approval of the plan and have until mid-January to decide whether to file for a re-hearing.
IAS Faculty Housing
The Institute for Advanced Study’s plans to build faculty housing on its property adjacent to the Battlefield State Park finally received approval from the Princeton Planning Board after years of attempts to thwart it by the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS). Members of PBS had repeatedly described the Institute’s plans to build eight townhomes and seven faculty homes as “destruction of the heart of the Princeton Battlefield” and “the destruction of hallowed ground.”
The IAS faculty housing would sit on seven-acres between existing faculty homes and the Institute’s main campus. A 200-foot buffer zone alongside the Battlefield Park would be permanently preserved as open space.
Princeton’s Mayor Liz Lempert and members of Princeton Council have suggested that they would like to see more affordable housing in Princeton. But the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) has stated that the municipality has a “zero” obligation” to provide more. Princeton currently has about 463 affordable units with a waiting list of some 1,900. Basing its recommendations on census data rather than on-site surveys, COAH also recommends that developers planning large projects be required to set aside 10 percent for affordable housing. Princeton has had a 20 percent set aside for several decades.
Town Topics focused on Princeton’s commitment to Affordable Housing, with a “Princeton Perspectives” series of articles focused on diverse socioeconomic lifestyles and living options in the municipality. The series introduced Princeton residents, some newcomers and others with deep roots in the community, some living in subsidized housing, others who purchased on the open market. Stories focused on a Princeton couple who were among the first to buy into the upscale Residences at Palmer Square, an immigrant family from Ghana renting an apartment in Griggs Farm, a mother and daughter purchasing through Princeton’s Affordable Housing Program, and a family of four who bought their Mt. Lucas Road home on the open market in an area where tear-downs are happening with greater incidence.
In the November election Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman became the first person of African American descent to represent New Jersey in Congress as the Representative for the 12th District. After Rush Holt announced in February that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives, the main candidates were Ms. Watson Coleman and Republican Alieta Eck. Four candidates vied for three 3-year term seats on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education. After Ms. Shamsi and Ms. Witter tied in the election, the latter won the final count by just two votes. Ms. Shamsi lost her seat on the Board after serving one three-year term.
The race for the U.S. Senate seat was won by the Democratic candidate Cory Booker who beat Republican candidate Jeff Bell.
This year’s ballot included a County Question proposing a 5 cent fee for single use plastic shopping bags in an effort to induce shoppers to use recyclable bags. While the proposal was favored by Princeton voters, it was rejected county-wide.
2014 marked the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and many in Princeton recalled their participation in the 1964 campaign to register African-Americans in Mississippi to vote. In November, civil rights activist Robert Moses came to the John Witherspoon Middle School to launch the traveling exhibition “Risking Everything: A Freedom Summer Exhibit for Students” and speak to the community. One of the most influential black leaders of the civil rights movement, Mr. Moses initiated and organized voter registration drives, sit-ins, and Freedom Schools for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He led the campaign to bring a thousand volunteers — primarily enthusiastic young white supporters — to Mississippi to encourage African-American voters to register to vote, to provide education via summer schools, and to convene a more representative delegation to attend the Democratic National Convention.
Protests, Discussions, And Demonstrations
Demonstrations by teachers and some 20 placard-carrying protestors highlighting the issue of wage theft on Nassau Street in May, were followed by an August 24 rally protesting the fatal shooting by a white police officer of the unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The organization Not in Our Town (NIOT) offered concerned locals a chance to continue to speak about racism after the rally at the Princeton Public Library. Co-sponsored by NIOT and the Princeton Public Library, the special event, “Continuing Conversation on Race,” aimed to provide a safe and confidential place for frank and meaningful discussion in the wake of the rally that had seen well over a 100 protesters march down Nassau and Witherspoon Streets to Hinds Plaza. Before the end of the year, Princeton residents took to the streets again to protest racial injustice.
The passing of William Hurd Scheide at age 100 on November 14 marked the end of an era in Princeton. The noted humanitarian, Bach scholar, and philanthropist made contributions — intellectual as well as financial — to numerous local organizations as well as civil rights, music, and the preservation of rare books and manuscripts. His home on Library Place was the setting for annual gatherings of Princeton alumni of a certain age during Reunions. Mr. Scheide graduated in the class of 1936.
Paul Sigmund, who died at 85 on April 27, was a retired politics professor at Princeton University and director of the Latin American Studies Program. Husband of Princeton Borough Mayor Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who died in 1990, Mr. Sigmund was a published author and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, among other achievements.
Ann Harris Yashuhara died at 82 on June 11. A logician and computer scientist, she was known for combining her Quaker faith with action focused on peace, social justice, and racial equality. Many knew her for her work with the organization Not in Our Town.
Architect Thomas S. Fulmer, Princeton University mathematics professor Edward Nelson, Princeton Community Housing founding member Theodore M. Vial Sr., artist Thomas George, novelist Julian Moynahan, and youth advocate Elizabeth Erickson were among the other notable Princetonians who died this year.
Comings and Goings
Generations of residents who relied on Obal’s Garden Center on Alexander Road for plants and everything needed to keep them blooming were saddened to learn of its closing last spring. The family-run business, supplying Princeton gardeners since 1946, was not the only long-term establishment to reach the end of the line. Also announcing its closing was The Silver Shop, the oldest store on Palmer Square.
Other stores to close on Palmer Square included Urban Grace, which was replaced by Pacers Running. Corkscrew Wine Shop expanded, and Luxaby Baby is departing at tne end of this month, with no replacement yet announced.
The downtown store A Place to Bead closed its doors this year. In Princeton Shopping Center, Mathnasium math tutoring and learning center opened. New restaurants include Jammin’ Crepes on Nassau Street, Mamoun’s on Witherspoon Street, and most recently, Taco Truck in Princeton Shopping Center. The Alchemist & Barrister on Witherspoon Street renovated and opened a second bar, while Teresa Caffe on Palmer Square added outdoor seating.