January 8, 2020

Mayor Lempert Won’t Run For a Third Term

By Anne Levin

Toward the end of her remarks at Princeton Council’s annual reorganization meeting on Thursday, January 2, Mayor Liz Lempert announced that she will not seek a third term. “I believe it is healthy for governments to change hands and for officials to pass the baton,” she said, adding, “This isn’t goodbye yet for me — a year is a long time and I look forward to a supercharged year with this energetic Council.”

The meeting, which Lempert began by observing a moment of silence for recently deceased Rabbi Adam Feldman and prominent Princeton residents Daniel Harris, Eric Craig, and Irving Newlin, marked the swearing in of new Council members Michelle Pirone Lambros and Mia Sacks. Councilman David Cohen was sworn in as Council president.

A few days after the meeting, Lempert reflected on her decision to step down when her term ends at the end of this year. She is ready to think about exploring other avenues, but would not say which. “There are a lot of issues I am passionate about, and I can see myself working on any one of those,” she said. “But I have no specific plans.”

Lempert has been mayor since the 2013 consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township. Previous to that, she served for four years as a member of the Township Committee. She began her career as a journalist, but segued into politics after working on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. Politics is in her blood — her mother was mayor of San Mateo, California, and one of her brothers was also an elected official.

“My mother was a help to me, especially in the beginning of my first term,” she said. ”Also, she was on the school board when I was growing up. So I helped her with her campaigns. I remember that when she was on the school board, she had to do one of the absolute worst things for any elected official, which was close one of the elementary schools. I knew how hard that was for her. We have really different personalities, and I never thought of myself as an elected official. But I guess I absorbed it without realizing it.”

With her younger daughter off to college in the fall, Lempert and her husband, Princeton professor Ken Norman, will be empty nesters. “It will be a new chapter for me in a lot of respects,” she said. In the meantime, she has a full plate.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have been mayor at such a time of momentous change for Princeton,” she said. “It started with consolidation, but there have been other challenges we faced over the past several years. There is the big issue of how we plan for and manage our growth. How do we prepare for climate change? How do we make sure we’re being good global citizens, reducing emissions? And how do we retain what is unique and special about Princeton as we change and modernize?”

Lempert has been impressed by the interest students have shown in local politics. “I do feel, in a lot of ways, that this is the golden age of local government,” she said. “I see it in the interest by a lot of Princeton University students wanting to get involved at the local level. I think there is a frustrating amount of gridlock at the national level, and often at the state level. It’s not like the big issues go away, but when working at the local level you can really see the impact of your work. And because we’re part of some national networks that have been set up, even on issues that feel so much larger than Princeton, by working in conjunction with other communities you feel like you’re part of a larger effort.”

Between now and next January, there is a lot to do. “As a former reporter, I feel like part of my personality is that I’m deadline-driven,” Lempert said. “Knowing I have a year left is energizing. I want to make sure we are able to cross out a lot of the big items we’ve been talking about and need to get done.”

In her address to Council, Lempert outlined the municipality’s achievements during the past year. She also referenced setbacks; specifically the illegal dumping scheme that was uncovered at the River Road site. The scandal has led to a remediation plan and “internal supervision and reporting procedures to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” she said.

Despite that situation, Lempert is focused on the positive. “I feel so lucky that my kids have had the privilege of growing up in Princeton,” she said. “I’m not somebody born and raised here, and I’ve had the opportunity to live in a bunch of other places. There is something really special about Princeton, and it is unique.”