Traffic, Affordable Housing, Political Activism Grab 2019 Headlines
“GEM OF PRINCETON”: In a year when environmental issues frequently grabbed the headlines, Marquand Park celebrated the grand opening of its Children’s Arboretum on April 27. The festivities included a ribbon cutting with the mayor, a treasure hunt for families, and free trees given out by the Marquand Park Foundation, recipient of an Award of Recognition from the town of Princeton. (Photo courtesy of the Marquand Park Foundation)
By Donald Gilpin and Anne Levin
While some of the ongoing local issues that have been in the forefront this year reached resolution, others remain unsettled.
Princeton reached a long-awaited agreement last week over its Affordable Housing obligation. But the final word on whether Westminster Choir College will continue at its Princeton location instead of moving to the Rider University campus in Lawrenceville remains in the balance. Princeton Theological Seminary reversed course when it announced it would not pursue a previously released development plan on the campus. The revamp of Princeton’s parking system was modified by the municipality in response to residents’ complaints. Concerns voiced by those who live near the newly-built fueling station on Mount Lucas Road led Princeton Council to announce some changes to the site.
As in recent years, members of the community gathered in large numbers to express opposition to various national policies. Most recently, demonstrators filled Hinds Plaza, on a miserably rainy day, to show support for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
There was an increased focus on immigrant issues. Rallies in Palmer Square and Hinds Plaza demonstrated support for local immigrant neighbors as well as those imprisoned in detention camps in other parts of the country.
One of the town’s oldest office buildings, at 20 Nassau Street, has been sold and will become a hotel. Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad built a new headquarters on Mount Lucas Road. The closure of the Alexander Street bridges and a drawn-out stoppage of the Dinky train service between Princeton and Princeton Junction led to a host of traffic woes, though drivers appear to have adjusted to the Alexander Street/Road closure. It is scheduled to reopen in April.
ON A “LOVE TRAIN”: Princeton University Professor Emeritus Cornel West addressed the crowd in Palmer Square last January. Originally announced to be a march in Princeton by a white supremacist group, the event turned into a rally against hate, bigotry, and racism, and a call for solidarity. West and others gave short speeches after hundreds of participants marched around the square, carrying signs and chanting. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)
Immigration issues, concern for immigrant neighbors, and reaction to policies emanating from Washington were once again a source of significant political action in Princeton in 2019.
A rally emerged in Palmer Square in early January after a white supremacist group announced that it was coming to town, but didn’t show up. The event turned into an expression of solidarity and harmony as hundreds paraded around the perimeter of Palmer Square carrying signs proclaiming such messages as “Love Not Hate Makes America Great” and “Princeton Stands Against Hate and White Supremacy,” and chanting expressions of solidarity in opposition to the originally planned white supremacist message.
Then in February, more than 300 gathered in Hinds Plaza adjacent to the Princeton Public Library to protest President Trump’s emergency declaration to obtain funding for a border wall. Ten speakers — ministers, politicians, public officials, and others — warned against “an imperial presidency,” “fascism,” and the deterioration of democracy, expressing strong opposition to Trump’s actions and calling for resistance on numerous fronts.
In July, demonstrators again filled Hinds Plaza, more than 400 strong, at a “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps” rally for immigrant rights and to protest policies of the Trump administration.
Citing inhumane conditions faced by migrants, particularly those detained at the border, demonstrators called for action to counteract administration policies.
“Values of our country are being trampled on again and again under this administration,” Princeton Councilwoman Leticia Fraga told the crowd. “We must demand that our country keep its promises. We cannot look away.”
And again, last week, on the eve of the U.S. House of Representatives vote to impeach President Trump, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Hinds Plaza, braving the harsh weather to hear an array of speakers and join more than 500 “Nobody Is Above the Law” rallies across the country.
Princeton University continued its support for the immigrant community. Its lawsuit against the federal government for termination of the DACA program for Dreamers went all the way to the Supreme Court, which held hearings in early November on a complaint, filed by Princeton University, Microsoft, and Princeton graduate Maria Perales Sanchez alleging that the program’s termination violated both the U.S. Constitution and federal law.
The Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF), serving the immigrant community from its new home on Clinton Street in Trenton, continued to grow, with a paid staff of 15, more than 40 volunteers, and more than 3,000 clients annually over the past three years of Adriana Abizadeh’s tenure as executive director.
Abizadeh announced in September that she will be stepping down at the end of the year, and taking her place will be Dina Paulson-McEwen, a writer, editor, and educator who is currently a member of the Princeton Human Services Commission.
In a town with so many high-powered organizations, Sustainable Princeton (SP), the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRC), and the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) seemed to grab a particularly large share of the headlines in 2019.
On July 22 Princeton Council endorsed Princeton’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), generated by SP with the input of 4,600 community members. Providing “a roadmap to reduce Princeton’s contribution to climate change and to prepare for its effects,” the CAP, with 84 specific strategies, established a goal of reducing 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (based on 2010 emissions).
SP’s leadership in implementing the CAP throughout the year included sponsoring the first GreenFest celebration of sustainable living at the Princeton Shopping Center in May, the “Shrink Your Footprints” series of programs at the
Princeton Public Library offering practical suggestions to help reduce carbon emissions, and a new “Take Action” website.
“Addressing climate change is non-negotiable,” said SP Executive Director Molly Jones. “Sustainability is an urgent necessity. Princeton needs to be a green community. Period.”
Joining the Princeton community at the start of the year was the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRC), opening its doors in its new home on Wiggins Street behind HiTOPS and reaching out to provide support to all who seek its services.
SHOWING THEIR PRIDE: Princeton’s first-ever Pride Parade drew thousands in late June as it proceeded up Witherspoon Street before turning at Paul Robeson Place for an after-party at the Princeton YMCA. (Photo by Emily Reeves)
On Saturday, June 22, the BRC and others sponsored the first-ever Princeton Pride Parade, which brought thousands of rainbow-clad celebrants, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, downtown for the march from the Municipal Building up Witherspoon Street, then over to the YMCA green space, where an after-party featured speakers, music, a variety of booths, and food trucks.
The Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) faced many challenges on domestic and international issues in 2019. Gun violence prevention was a top priority throughout the year, with CFPA taking leadership in the passage of six new gun safety laws in New Jersey.
CFPA continued to advocate for intensified diplomacy with North Korea and Iran in its “Diplomacy, Not War” campaign, and sustained its drive to oppose the development and spread of nuclear weapons.
Under the leadership of Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore, CFPA co-sponsored a number of forums, conferences, demonstrations, and interfaith services in support of peace and the environment, and it recently launched its Peace Voter 2020 Campaign to maximize its impact on next year’s elections.
After the town’s Curbside Organics Program was discontinued in January due to problems with the company hauling the food waste, the municipality looked into alternatives that could keep the initiative alive but with better results.
Council approved a plan in August to accept the donation of a biodigester and possibly place it at a nearby location. But this month, the governing body voted to auction off the biodigester, and continue looking for ways to extend the program.
A CHANGE OF PLANS: A deal to sell Westminster Choir College to a Chinese company was taken off the table in early July, replaced by Rider University’s plan to move the music school from Princeton to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus. Many Westminster stakeholders vowed to get the decision reversed. The saga continues. (Photo by Erica M. Cardenas)
Westminster Choir College
Rider University’s efforts to sell Westminster Choir College, with which it merged in 1991, have not gone as planned. The University announced in July that the deal to sell the campus to Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Company, for $40 million, was off. Instead, the University released plans to close the 22-acre Westminster site on Walnut Lane, and relocate the school to Rider’s Lawrenceville campus.
This drew protests from students, alumni, and supporters, resulting in two lawsuits that are still pending. Rider has made attempts to get the cases dismissed by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Paul Innes. Most recently, the University claimed that Westminster students have no right to go to court to protect the school, and only Rider can make decisions over Westminster’s future. The court papers are due January 2, and the motion is currently scheduled to be heard on January 10. The overall goal is to prevent Rider from moving the school and selling the Princeton campus.
Among the most controversial issues of the year was the new parking plan for downtown, introduced at the end of 2018. At several meetings, in letters to the editor, and on the street, residents, business owners, shopkeepers, and customers complained about the new digital meters, shorter time limits, and higher prices. Shops such as the longstanding Pins ’n Needles on Chambers Street closed, citing the parking plan as a reason.
After considering recommendations from the Princeton Merchants Association, Council voted to make some changes to fees and allotted times, among other efforts. Those bothered by the digital readouts and new rules on the new meters seem to be adjusting to the changes.
TROUBLE AHEAD: Traffic woes were inevitable when a section of Alexander Street/Road closed in November for state and county bridge replacement projects. But wider spans and safer conditions will be the result when the road reopens, hopefully in April 2020. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)
Traffic woes stemmed from two separate closings of two bridges on Alexander Street, the Dinky being out of service from October 2018 to this May, and various road projects in and around town. NJ Transit’s halting of the Dinky service between Princeton and Princeton Junction was a major problem for commuters, even though the trains were replaced by buses. The bridge over Stony Brook was closed briefly in April when emergency repairs had to be made. That bridge, the one over the D&R Canal, and a culvert closed for replacement in early November, and the road is scheduled to reopen in April.
After months of back-and-forth with the Fair Share Housing Center, Princeton Council approved a settlement agreement last week requiring the town to provide 753 affordable housing units to meet its obligation between now and 2025. The agreement marked the resolution of a lawsuit filed by Fair Share Housing against Princeton, and several other towns in New Jersey, over the lack of affordable housing.
Among the locations to be rezoned to make way for development are parcels at and near Princeton Shopping Center, Thanet Circle, and Mount Lucas Road at Herrontown Road (the former SAVE Animal Rescue site).
Princeton Theological Seminary
A proposal by Princeton Theological Seminary to build new apartments on its Tennent Roberts campus created controversy among residents of the historic district that borders the school. After homeowners voiced their concerns at several public meetings led by an ad hoc committee, and having reviewed the costs involved, the school announced at the end of October that it was scrapping the plan. The focus is now on restoring existing buildings on the campus.
SNEAK PEEK: The Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad invited the community to visit in early September for a look at its new headquarters under construction at 2 Mount Lucas Road. The event featured tours, rescue vehicles, and the opportunity to meet volunteers. The new building is now up and running. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)
After Princeton Council announced that it was eliminating annual funding to Princeton Community Television, urging the station to seek outside funding in the manner of other nonprofits, supporters of the station began a campaign to try to get the town to reverse the decision. The effort continues, but Council has stood firm.
Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad continued the construction of its new headquarters between Route 206 and Mount Lucas Road, and the building is now up and running. Some residents of the neighborhood have raised objections to its size.
Near but not part of the new headquarters is the municipal fueling station, a major source of controversy for neighbors who have objected to its size, lighting, and environmental impact, among other issues. After nine recommendations were put together in response to the concerns, Council reported this month that while the fueling station will remain in place, its canopy will be removed, new lighting will be installed, and the town’s fueling facility on River Road will be repaired to allow vehicles to use it when practical.
A pattern of illegal dumping at the River Road facility was uncovered by the website Planet Princeton last spring. The story led to the termination of three municipal employees, one of whom was charged with second degree bribery for allegedly accepting payment in exchange for letting contractors dump dirt and other materials at the municipal site.
Never lacking for an abundance of news stories, Princeton University received an especially happy pre-holiday surprise earlier this month when Xiyue Wang, a history graduate student, was released after more than three years in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage. He has returned home to join his young son and wife Hua Qu, who said, ”Our family is complete again.”
The University, along with many other organizations and individuals, appealed repeatedly for Wang’s release, and his plight prompted several demonstrations and other gestures of support on campus since 2016.
Demonstrations of a different nature took place outside Nassau Hall in May at a two-week sit-in by, at times, as many as 200 Princeton Students for Title IX Reform, who were demanding action to strengthen the University’s sexual misconduct policies.
After meeting with a group of protesters, University President Christopher Eisgruber said, “Sexual misconduct has no place at Princeton, and the University remains firmly committed to making its campus safe.”
As the nine-day protest ended, the University agreed to additional meetings with protesters and others over the summer, along with external and internal investigations of Title IX at Princeton. In October those reviews yielded two reports, focusing on “four key areas in which the University could and should do more.” The University continues its work in implementing new programs and policies to strengthen the process for combating sexual misconduct, as it discusses the reports of the two review committees.
Students’ voices in resistance were heard again in early October, as Eisgruber presided at the dedication of an artistic installation, “a permanent marker” exploring the mixed legacy of Woodrow Wilson.
Created by 2019 MacArthur Fellowship winner Walter Hood and standing in the plaza outside the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs on Washington Road, the towering triangular work, etched with images and quotations representing both positive and negative aspects of the Wilson legacy, met with opposition from about 200 protesters, who objected to Wilson’s racist attitudes and actions. They were reiterating demands by Black Justice League students, who four years ago had occupied Nassau Hall in calling for Wilson’s name to be erased from University buildings and institutions.
Among the other Princeton University stories of interest to the local community were the University’s lawsuit, in alliance with Microsoft and graduate Maria Perales Sanchez, against the federal government’s termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; Eisgruber’s February meeting with Princeton Council; the completion in March of a 10-year renovation of Firestone Library; and a Nobel Prize in physics for Princeton Professor Emeritus James Peebles “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.”
Democrats Mia Sacks and Michelle Pirone Lambros, winners over Independent Adam Bierman in the November 5 election, will be joining Princeton Council in the new year, stepping into the seats vacated by Jenny Crumiller and Tim Quinn. Crumiller, a member of Council since 2013, served as Council president during the past year. Quinn, who has served on Council for three years, was defeated in the Democratic primary in June.
With three seats up for grabs on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE), newcomer Susan Kanter, former Board member Dafna Kendal, and incumbent Debbie Bronfeld were the three top vote getters, with Greg Stankiewicz falling short in his bid for re-election. Kanter and Kendal will take the seats vacated by Stankiewicz and Bill Hare, both of whom served a single three-year term.
In the race for New Jersey Assembly for the 16th Legislative District, incumbent Democrats Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman were re-elected, while Democrat Brian Hughes handily won his fifth four-year term as Mercer County Executive. Democrats Andrew Koontz and Nina D. Melker, running unopposed, regained their positions on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Princeton Public Schools
Following passage of a $26.9M facilities bond referendum in December 2018, scaled back from $137M after much community-wide controversy, the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) started the year with two new BOE members, Daniel Dart and Brian McDonald, and a new president, Beth Behrend.
Behrend immediately called for a renewed focus on the students. “There has been lots of robust discussion about the schools in the past year, but not enough time to focus on students and their needs,” she said.
That new focus was manifested in a number of areas throughout the year, though not without some bumps in the road, as budget cuts and the demands of referendum construction and maintenance projects took a toll. In May, grappling with budget constraints, the Board approved by a 6-4 vote an unpopular budget requiring staff and program cuts of about 3 percent.
Behrend promised a “transparency blitz,” with the PPS providing increased information to the community and additional opportunities to get involved, as the referendum projects proceed over the next two years. Those projects involve upgrades in health and security improvements at all six schools; some major renovations and additional classrooms at John Witherspoon Middle School; and renovation of the guidance area, addition of four new classrooms, and creation of a new remote dining facility at Princeton High School (PHS).
At its September 24 meeting, the BOE voted 6-3 to hire the educational planning firm Milone & Mcbroom (M&M) to help develop a plan to address the ongoing challenges of growth and overcrowding. M&M will be working with all facets of the community over the next six months in helping the district to develop a long-term plan.
Jessica Baxter took over from retiring PHS principal Gary Snyder at the end of the 2018-19 school year, and echoed Behrend’s emphasis on the students with a commitment to prioritize wellness. The PPS have moved forward with programs and initiatives in combating student stress and promoting equity in seeking to close the achievement gap. In late November, PPS announced plans to expand its preschool program to accommodate 15 more 3- and 4-year-olds and to continue the growth of its Dual-Language Immersion program.
The PPS students were not reluctant to put themselves into the spotlight. In addition to numerous academic and extra-curricular achievements throughout the district, PHS students took the lead in organizing climate strikes in Hinds Plaza in March, May, September, and December. They joined hundreds of thousands of students around the world to demand that action be taken to address climate change.
MARKING HISTORY: This Heritage Tour plaque at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church was one of four dedicated on August 10 at historic black churches in the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District of Princeton. (Photo by Wendy Greenberg)
The Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) Neighborhood Association with Leighton Newlin as chairman, the revived W-J Development Corporation under the leadership of Yina Moore, and the W-J Historical and Cultural Society led by Shirley Satterfield all generated plenty of news in 2019 from Princeton’s most recently-designated historic district.
With its slogan “Our history is our foundation; our strength is our diversity,” W-J held a two-day Welcome Weekend in May, followed by its annual, week-long Joint Effort Safe Streets celebration, under the direction of John Bailey, in August.
Featured events included the dedication of the W-J Heritage Tour plaques for the four black churches on August 10 and a special tribute to Laura Mitnaul Wooten, who died in March 2019 and was the longest serving — 79 consecutive years — election poll worker in the United States.
At its July 22 meeting, the Princeton Council presented Satterfield, a sixth generation Princetonian, with an award of recognition for her work as a historian.
Two W-J neighborhood mural projects were in the news in 2019. On November 9, the Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) held a reveal party and formal dedication of a large mural titled Journey on the outer wall of Lupita’s Groceries on Leigh Avenue and John Street. Sponsored by the ACP, the mural, featuring butterflies, trees, and the Big Dipper, was painted by artist Marlon Davis, who grew up in the W-J neighborhood.
Plans for another mural, this one to honor the African American history of the neighborhood, are moving forward, with a projected completion date set for August during next year’s Joint Effort Safe Streets event.
Departures and Appointments
Shortly after the beginning of 2019, Emily Mann announced that, after three decades, she will leave her post as artistic director of McCarter Theatre at the end of the 2019-2020 season. Her replacement has yet to be named.
Princeton Public Library announced last week that Jennifer Podolsky, executive director of the East Brunswick Public Library, has been hired as the Princeton library’s 14th executive director. Podolsky, who starts in February of next year, replaces Brett Bonfield, who stepped down in February 2019.
This month, the Arts Council of Princeton named Caroline Cleaves to the post of development director.
Sale of 20 Nassau Street
Considered one of the least costly places in town to rent an office, the building at 20 Nassau Street has been sold, it was announced last month. Home to numerous offices, health care professionals, and retail establishments including Jammin’ Crepes, Small Bites by Local Greek, Red Onion, and Bucks County Dry Goods, the building is to be turned into a hotel. The Chicago-based Graduate Hotels closed the sale October 31. Tenants were told by representatives of the hotel firm that their existing leases would be honored, but there were no assurances that they would be renewed.
2019 marked the passing of many individuals with strong ties, both personal and professional, to Princeton. From author and former Princeton University professor Toni Morrison, who died in August, to Hamilton Jewelers Chairman Martin Siegel, who passed away this month, their experiences and impacts on the community were notable.
Longtime Town Topics film critic and contributor Kam Williams, composer and Princeton University faculty member Peter Westergaard, artist Priscilla Snow Algava, architect Alexander Perry Morgan, and McCarter Board of Trustees president and arts supporter Leslie Vought Kuenne were among those with strong connections to cultural pursuits.
Among the dedicated and civic-minded were Herbert Windsor Hobler, well-known broadcaster and community volunteer; Laura Wooten, a pollworker who welcomed voters from 1939 until shortly before her death at 98; and Stuart Carothers, the founder of the Princeton Area Community Foundation and former executive director of Recording for the Blind.
Princeton University professors Alan Krueger, Henry Horn, and Institute of Advanced Study emeritus professor Irving Lavin were among those from academia. Cardiologist and pharmaceutical executive Maria Geczy, Thompson Land founder William Bryce Thompson IV, and tennis coach and Princeton native Elinor “Ellie” Rosenthal Kraut were among the many others who leave behind a strong legacy.