October 13, 2021

Local and Statewide Races Heat Up; Early Voting and Election Day Approach

COUNCIL CANDIDATES: Leighton Newlin, longtime community leader, and Eve Niedergang, incumbent council member, are running unopposed for two available Princeton Council positions in the upcoming election. With early voting starting October 23 and Election Day on November 2, races for Princeton Public Schools Board of Education, state Senate, general Assembly, county surrogate, Board of County Commissioners, and governor, along with three public questions, are also on the ballot.  (Photo by Peter Smith)

By Donald Gilpin

With races for governor, state Senate, general Assembly, surrogate, Board of County Commissioners, Princeton Council, and Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE), along with three public questions, all on the ballot,  Princeton voters have a range of options for how they cast their ballots in the coming weeks.

Locally, incumbent Eve Niedergang, and community leader Leighton Newlin, both Democrats, are running unopposed for two three-year terms on Princeton Council, and four candidates — incumbents Betsy Baglio and Brian McDonald, and new candidates Mara Franceschi and Jeffrey Liao, who have all been profiled in previous issues of Town Topics — are running for three spots on the PPS BOE.

Seeking to represent the 16th legislative district, which includes parts of Mercer, Hunterdon, Middlesex, and Somerset counties, in two seats in the New Jersey General Assembly, Republicans Joseph Lukac III and Vincent Panico are taking on incumbent Roy Freiman and Sadaf Jaffer, both Democrats. The 16th district state Senate race, for the seat to be

vacated at the end of the year by Christopher (Kip) Batemen, pits Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat, against Republican Michael Pappas. 

Beginning next week, from Saturday, October 23 to Sunday, October 31, early voting will be available for the first time in New Jersey at Princeton’s in-person early voting location in the Princeton Shopping Center to the left of the Bagel Nook, and at other centralized early voting sites around the state. Voters who have vote-by-mail ballots can place their completed ballots in the mail, in a secure ballot drop box at the Princeton Municipal Building on Witherspoon Street or at the Princeton University Wawa/Dinky Station on Alexander Street or deliver directly to the County Board of Elections office on Election Day, November 2.  And of course voters can go to their regular polling locations on Tuesday, November 2 and vote in person. Polling places will be listed on the sample ballot mailed to voters or they can be found online, along with other election information, under “Elections” at mercercounty.org.

Council Candidates

Niedergang and Newlin commented on their work in the community over the past last few years, and offered their views on the challenges ahead.

“I’m proud of what Council has accomplished during the last two-plus years, especially in facing the challenges of the COVID pandemic,” Niedergang wrote. “Council responded quickly to help our businesses stay open, to expand our health department, and to assist residents in need.”

Niedergang led the recent search for a new town administrator, has helped advance Princeton’s Climate Action Plan, and has been a leader in the effort to preserve and maintain Princeton’s open space. She noted that she currently chairs the Princeton Cannabis Task Force, which will be making recommendations to Council on whether and where to allow cannabis-related businesses in town, “while keeping considerations of racial and social justice front and center.”

Niedergang outlined her goals for the future: “Building resiliency in the face of climate change by both protecting and making accessible Princeton’s open space, devoting adequate resources and staff to our infrastructure, and ensuring that municipal actions are contemplated through a lens of social and racial equity.”

She added, “As a progressive Democrat, I will further the values of social justice, climate sustainability, affordability, and smart growth, and work to provide opportunities for all who live and work in our unique and diverse community.”  A 30-year resident of Princeton, Niedergang is running for her second term on Council.

Newlin is seeking elected office for the first time, looking to replace Councilman Dwaine Williamson, who is not seeking re-election. A third-generation Princetonian who grew up in town, Newlin has served on the Princeton Housing Authority Board of Commissioners for the past 24 years, including 19 as chair. He is co-chair of the Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) Neighborhood Association, a trustee of the W-J Historical and Cultural Society, and a member of the advisory board of the Paul Robeson House of Princeton.

“I believe my experience and track record of success and service makes me the right candidate at the right time to serve on Princeton Council,” he wrote. “Over the past 20 years, I have demonstrated an unselfish commitment to the betterment of my neighborhood and to the greater Princeton community.”

Newlin went on to reflect on his memories of Princeton’s past and his priorities for the town’s future. “I have seen the racial transformation of Princeton from the days I could not sit at the lunch counter for a meal,” he wrote. “I believe Princeton’s leadership must reflect and represent the diversity and values of its people.  I will work to ensure that Princeton is a town that supports equity, diversity, and good governance.”

Assembly and Senate Races

In the Assembly race, Jaffer, former Montgomery Township mayor and a postdoctoral research associate and lecturer in South Asian studies at Princeton University, would be the first-ever Asian American woman or Muslim in the New Jersey legislature. Freiman, whose professional experience includes working as an executive at Prudential Financial, joined the Assembly in 2018, where he has served on the Commerce and Economic Development, Financial Institutions and Insurance, Transportation, and Independent Authorities committees and as vice chair of the State and Local Government Committee.

Panico, a Readington IT executive, is president of the Hunterdon Central Board of Education. Lukac, a U.S. Army veteran, Manville councilman, and former school board member, works as an electrical and instrumentation supervisor and is a 27-year member of the Electrical Workers’ Union.

In the state Senate race for Bateman’s seat in the 16th district, which has never been held by a Democrat, Zwicker, a South Brunswick resident and head of science education at the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory who has represented the 16th district in the state Assembly since 2016, is competing against Pappas, who was formerly mayor of Franklin Township (1983-84), a one-term U.S. congressman (1997-99), and has been the Bridgewater municipal administrator since 2020.

County races on the November 2 Princeton ballot include Republican Douglas Miles competing against Democrat incumbent Diane Gerofsky for a five-year term as county surrogate and Republicans Richard Balgowan, Michael Chianese, and Andrew Kotula Jr. vying for three spots on the Board of County Commissioners against Democrats Kristin McLaughlin, Terrance Stokes, and the incumbent board chair, Samuel Frisby.

Also on the ballot is the election for governor and lieutenant governor, with incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy and running mate Sheila Oliver seeking a second four-year term against Republican challengers Jack Ciattarelli and running mate Diane Allen.

There are three public questions on the ballot, one about expanding sports betting to college events; one that would allow certain organizations to use proceeds from bingo, raffles, and other games of chance for their own organizations; and a local question on allowing Mercer County to change the allocation of funds raised by the county for open space, recreation, farmland and the Historic Trust Fund. The last proposition does not increase the voter-approved tax levy.