October 9, 2019

Candidates for Council, BOE Gear Up For November 5 Election

BOE FORUM: Candidates for the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) squared off on October 2 in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area. From left are Debbie Bronfeld, Susan Kanter, Dafna Kendal, and Greg Stankiewicz. In the November 5 election, the four candidates will be competing for three seats on the BOE, while Adam Bierman, Michelle Lambros, and Mia Sacks will be vying for two available positions on Princeton Council. (Photo by Anna Savoia)

By Donald Gilpin

With lawn signs proliferating and only 27 days left until election day, three candidates for two spots on Princeton Council and four candidates for three seats on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) are revving up their campaigns.

On the ballot for three-year terms on Council are Michelle Pirone Lambros and Mia Sacks, representing the Democrats after winning the most votes in the June Democratic primary, and Independent Democratic Coalition member Adam Bierman. Jenny Crumiller and Tim Quinn will be leaving the Council at the end of their terms in January. No Republicans are running for Council this year.

Running for three-year BOE terms will be incumbent Debbie Bronfeld, former BOE member Dafna Kendal, new candidate Susan Kanter, and current BOE Vice President Greg Stankiewicz. Bill Hare will be stepping down from the BOE at the end of the year.

With a wide range of hotly-contested issues on the table for both the town and the schools, the candidates have been getting their messages out through personal contact, social media, and a variety of online platforms, but each candidate was given the opportunity to state briefly “what the voters should know about you and your views on the future” of Princeton or the Princeton Public Schools (PPS).

Council Candidates

Bierman boycotted the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) endorsement process last spring, criticizing a “pay-to-play” system, and was not on the primary ballot in June. He is the host of two shows on Princeton Community TV.

“I have a difficult task in getting elected to Princeton Council as an Independent Democrat,” he wrote in an email. “I also believe it is possible because of the traditional openness and fairness of our town to candidates who press for change.”

He continued, “We need to end the municipal silence that follows when meters are too complicated and fueling stations too big and sewer facilities environmentally dangerous. When the town administration denies press access to public records, this is interference. I have spoken up about these issues. I cannot say the same for my opponents.”

Emphasizing his independent perspective, he went on, “Princeton’s municipal government needs public officials who will provide oversight and take responsibility for how the town is governed. Currently, there is reluctance by the Council to criticize municipal failures, out of some idea of solidarity, I suspect. I intend to end the municipal silence. I intend to involve the whole community in all its diversity at the beginning of town projects, not just announce them. I will always take a position on town matters.”

Lambros serves on the Princeton Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Princeton Merchants Association, and the PCDO, and is a member of the Economic Development Committee.

“We have critical decisions that will be made in the coming year that will lay the groundwork for what our town will look like in the future,” she wrote. “As Princeton becomes increasingly less affordable, the consequences of losing our middle class are adversely impacting our community.”

She continued, “I believe that Princeton can still provide opportunities to build a better life for present and future generations as were available to my family who settled here in the early 1900s. But in order to do that, we must find a path to increasing our inventory of housing to serve seniors, young families, and people who work in Princeton but who no longer can afford to live here.”

Highlighting the value of her business experience in tackling the town’s most difficult issues, she added, “Integral to the affordability issue is the necessity of investing in our local economy. As a small business owner my expertise will be instrumental in working with the business community to assure a thriving commercial sector. Not only does this sector provide services, employment, and conveniences to residents, but a growing commercial sector means residential tax relief that impacts affordability. By creating private-public partnerships and working with our tax-exempt institutions we can find new revenue sources as well as provide tax relief for residents.”

Sacks is vice chair of the Princeton Democratic Municipal Committee, a member of the Princeton Planning Board, elected county representative for Princeton’s District 13, and active in numerous other local organizations.

She noted some of the greatest challenges facing Princeton. “Key decisions about the next half century for Princeton will be made in the next few years,” she wrote. “We must tackle head-on the core challenge of affordability, which threatens the socioeconomic diversity that has long distinguished Princeton from other suburban towns. We must also work to responsibly manage growth, build resiliency to climate change into our municipal infrastructure, and jumpstart the revitalization of our central commercial hub.”

She continued, “My experiences on the Planning Board and the Environmental Commission have taught me that sustainable development is contingent upon a coordinated approach to planning and policy. I believe that Princeton Council has a critical role to play in facilitating a community-wide planning process for our town’s future that is equitable, environmentally responsible, and economically innovative.” 

She went on to point out some of her qualifications for the job. “On Council, I will work to ensure that we plan proactively — with maximum public participation, accountability to the community, and transparency in all decision-making bodies and processes,” she said. “My years of service to Princeton have left me well-grounded in the challenges we face; and my ability to communicate clearly, to find compromise, and to forge consensus among groups with disparate views, will enable us to plan our shared future with unity.”

School Board Candidates

Bronfeld, who found herself frequently speaking for and voting with the minority on key BOE issues such as the budget and the recent hiring of a consulting planning firm, has been on the BOE for the past three years, serving on the Student Achievement and Finance and Equity committees, and as chair of the Personnel Committee.  Her two sons both went through the PPS.

“One reason I am re-running for the School Board is to make sure every student continues to receive their free high school degree,” she wrote in an email. “My plan is to work smarter with the current budget so teachers aren’t laid off; so our most vulnerable students receive the skills they need to succeed; so students can participate in the arts, clubs, and sports they want; and so our neighbors can live in Princeton and not be driven out by higher taxes.”

She continued, “I will prioritize student wellness by focusing on decreasing stress, and I will continue to support holding our contract management company accountable for all referendum projects with complete budget transparency.”

Kanter has had three children in the PPS over the past 17 years, with the third graduating from PHS this past June.

She pointed out some of her qualifications for the job. “I have over a decade of experience guiding the PTOs within Princeton Public Schools as president at PHS (5 years) and treasurer at John Witherspoon Middle School, along with many other volunteer roles within our community,” she said. “A 23-year career managing $250 million budgets translates into real-world experience in fiscal responsibility.” 

Kanter went on to emphasize some of her priorities for the PPS. “I will continue supporting our schools with the objective that all students achieve their potential in a healthy and joyful manner,” she said. “It is a critical time as the Board faces challenges of developing sustainable operating budgets as well as short and long-term facilities plans. It is imperative that this work is collaborative, student-focused and data-driven.”

Kendal served on the BOE from 2016 through 2018, chairing three different committees and serving as vice president for part of her tenure, but was defeated in her bid for re-election last year. A lawyer, she has a son at PHS and a daughter at JWMS.

“I want to ensure that every student receives an excellent education,” Kendal wrote. “When teaching positions are eliminated, as happened for the 2019-20 school year, the quality of instruction in our schools is at risk, especially at a time of rising enrollment.”

She went on to point out the value of her past involvement with the PPS. “My prior experience as a School Board member will allow me to help guide cuts to the budget without eliminating teaching positions,” she said. “I pledge to be an effective steward of our district’s resources and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently by cutting wasteful spending and working with community partners to secure other sources of revenue.”

Stankiewicz has been BOE vice president over the past year of his three-year term and has served as chair of Facilities and Policy committees; liaison to the New Jersey School Board Association, Princeton Planning Board, and PHS PTO; and as a member of the Finance Committee. His daughter is a senior at PHS.

“I am a fighter on behalf of every one of our public school students,” he wrote. “I am proud of what this current Board has accomplished, and if re-elected, pledge to continue our efforts to enhance equity and inclusiveness; reduce student stress; strengthen the district’s finances; and work together with our town and community on how to best and most cost-effectively meet the needs of our growing student population.” 

He added, “Most importantly, I want to continue fostering trust and respect among the Board, students, teachers, staff, and community. That is how we build the future that all our students and families deserve.”

The BOE candidates can be viewed in a video of their October 2 forum, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area, at lwvprinceton.org or at Princeton Community TV at princetontv.org. They will also be participating in a candidates forum on November 1, sponsored by Not in Our Town Princeton at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton.

The Council candidates will participate in a debate on October 22 on Princeton Community TV.