May 8, 2019

Council Candidates Trade Ideas, Barbs In Lively W-J Forum

CANDIDATES’ FORUM: Ashley Hightower (far left) and Antoine Newlin (far right) delivered the questions and moderated, as the four candidates for Princeton Council — (from left) Adam Bierman, Michelle Pirone Lambros, Tim Quinn, and Mia Sacks — shared their visions for the future of Princeton at the First Baptist Church Saturday morning in a forum sponsored by the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association.

By Donald Gilpin

The four candidates for Princeton Council — Adam Bierman, Michelle Pirone Lambros, Tim Quinn, and Mia Sacks — squared off last Saturday morning in a two-hour forum sponsored by the Witherspoon-Jackson (WJ) Neighborhood Association at the First Baptist Church on John Street.

Looking ahead to the Democratic primary on June 4 and the general election in November with two Council positions open, the candidates shared their visions for the future of Princeton. They focused on issues such as what smart growth means for Princeton; the town’s commitment to diversity and the displacement of African American residents; the town’s relationship with Princeton University, with the Princeton Public Schools, and with Mercer County; an economic development plan for WJ; and a Master Plan for Princeton.

Ashley Hightower and Antoine Newlin asked the questions and moderated the session.

Before a crowd of about 50, Bierman who described himself as an independent Democrat running as an Independent, accentuated his independence throughout the proceedings.

Bierman boycotted the Princeton Community Democratic Organization endorsement process in March, criticizing “a pay-to-play” system, while the other three candidates all received the support of the Democratic organization. “I don’t have to cater to the political machine,” Bierman said. “I can think for myself.”

Lambros, in her opening statement and responses to the moderators’ questions, emphasized her experience as an entrepreneur and small business owner. “Government works best when it works together with businesses,” she said. She asserted that the municipality could negotiate a better deal with Princeton University and use its leverage to develop cost-efficient affordable housing solutions.”

Quinn, the only incumbent, repeatedly pointed out the depth and breadth of his experience on Council, on the School Board, and in other local public positions. In particular, he emphasized his engagement with the WJ neighborhood. “I’m deeply honored to be considered a friend of this neighborhood,” he said.

Expressing her concern about the future of Princeton at this transitional time, Sacks often took a conciliatory position, stating, “We all care deeply for Princeton, despite our different visions and different emphasis. I don’t think there’s a political machine in Princeton, but there are groups of people who all work very hard.”

Pointing out her more than 20 years working in social justice, Sacks noted the need for greater involvement, “more people, more community engagement, and a multi-generational commitment to the community.”

In addressing economic prospects for the WJ neighborhood and the town in general, the candidates all commented on the importance of an effective solution to the challenges of affordable housing, with Lambros calling for mixed-use development and greater financial contributions from the University to help reduce property taxes; Quinn vowing to ensure there is a vibrant African American community through zoning and on-street parking modifications and “returning the commercial base to the WJ neighborhood”; Sacks advocating Mercer County small business grants, and a focus on an infusion of input from the high-tech industry, as well as echoing the need for rezoning and plans for investment in African American owned businesses; while Bierman demanded a whole new method for determining property taxes, asserting, “We have to get radical.”

The candidates differed most sharply on the question of the Princeton Master Plan. Quinn called for taking the time to have “real engagement at the grass roots level” and noted that government can’t maneuver like a speedboat but “maneuvers more like a battleship or an aircraft carrier.”

Sacks emphasized the importance of “getting it right” on the Master Plan with the whole community having a voice “in where we grow, how we grow, who’s able to stay, and who’s forced to go. What we need now is a process for 50-year planning, not just year-to-year planning. I’m running for Council because my priority is long-term planning.”

Picking up on Quinn’s nautical metaphor, Bierman stated, “The ship’s going in the wrong direction, lurching from crisis to crisis.” He accused the Council of not listening to its constituents and failing to set clear priorities.

Lambros, citing the parking controversy, echoed Bierman’s concern about Council not listening to the community, as she urged that the Master Plan must be updated and must draw more heavily on University resources.

Leighton Newlin, WJ resident, an organizer of the event, and the forum timekeeper, summed up the proceedings. “Princeton is at a very serious point in our evolution,” he said. “There are major decisions to be made that will impact lives for many years in the future. It’s good to hear the visions, plans, and ideas of the individuals who would like to make those decisions. And how happy we are as a community to see young people step up and take on the burden and awesome responsibility of leadership.”

Lambros, Quinn, and Sacks will compete in the June 4 Democratic primary for two places on the November 5 ballot, and Bierman will be running as an Independent on the November ballot. There are no Republican candidates for Council this year.