March 18, 2020

Princeton Dems Endorse Freda for Mayor, Cohen And Fraga for Council

By Donald Gilpin

It was virtual democracy in action Sunday evening as the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) went online with its forum for mayoral and Princeton Council candidates and its presidential straw poll.

Commentary was live streamed and more than 200 participated in the forum, endorsing Council incumbents David Cohen with 174 votes (82 percent) and Leticia Fraga with 169 votes (80 percent), while challenger Dina Shaw finished third with 63 votes (30 percent).

In the race for the mayoral nomination Mark Freda, running unopposed, won the PCDO endorsement with 174 votes (82 percent), with 37 PCDO members (18 percent) voting for no endorsement.

In a straw poll on the race for Democratic presidential nominee, PCDO members supported Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders by a 183-21 margin.

“These are extraordinary times,” said PCDO President Jean Durbin in introducing the event and explaining the process of canceling the traditional gathering and moving the PCDO’s first virtual endorsement vote online.  “It’s exciting tonight for us to test this technology.”

The PCDO Executive Board brainstormed many different ways to hold the event, initially planning to livestream the forum with a small audience followed by the option of an in-person or a virtual vote. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, the PCDO decided to use Zoom for the forum participants and then livestream it through YouTube to the public. The PCDO membership needed only an email address and an internet connection or a smartphone.

The PCDO set up an email address to receive questions for the candidates before and during the event. “Bill Schofield, our publicity and website chair, was really our techno guru, with support from Chris Fistonich,” Durbin said. “Owen O’Donnell, our treasurer, also helped a lot. It was a real team effort. The candidates themselves were extraordinarily patient and good natured. Despite the unfortunate circumstances that caused us to hold a virtual forum and vote, I know we all are proud of how we came together as a community to get it done.”

All three Council candidates and the
one mayoral candidate will be on the ballot for the June 2 Democratic primary. No other candidates have declared to date. They have until the March 30 deadline to do so.

In the forum, each Council candidate delivered opening remarks, and answered questions that had been emailed in on such subjects as balancing Princeton’s growth, transportation, education, inclusiveness, affordability, and preserving open space.

Cohen, who joined the planning board six years ago and is in his first term on Council, emphasized his experience as an architect and his ability to listen well, communicate clearly, and build consensus.  Advocating “smart growth” to avoid sprawl, Cohen noted his work in developing the Princeton Climate Action Plan and the urgent need to implement that plan. 

He also highlighted the value of diversity in Princeton as “something we do to benefit ourselves. It gives us all the opportunity to learn from others,” he said.

Fraga, who has served the community in various capacities for the past 20 years and is in her first term on Council, also struck the theme of smart growth and added, “we must have input from neighbors, the business community, and everyone who is going to be impacted.” 

Highlighting the importance of engaging the community, Fraga said, “We should all make a difference and have a positive impact on our community.” Council liaison to the Civil Rights Commission and Human Services, Fraga praised the Princeton Health Department and Emergency Services for their response to the coronavirus pandemic.  “I want to commend them for doing a wonderful job,” she said. “They have been working non-stop to make sure that information goes out and that it is accurate.”

She added, “I know there is a lot more we can do, but I’m immensely proud of all the work we’ve been doing.”

Shaw, who has served as PTO president at Littlebrook and John Witherspoon, volunteered for local organizations, and started a business in her 17 years in Princeton with her family, emphasized three main points in her platform: managing economic development, communication and inclusivity, and support for public schools.

Shaw cited a “gap between the needs of the town and the work being done by Council,” and presented herself as “an alternative.”  She emphasized the importance of transparency and increased communication to encourage more community involvement. In highlighting her business background, she warned against raising taxes and “squeezing out more people.”

In his statement, Freda, president of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and a 40-year member of the Princeton Fire Department, pointed out the value of his experience. “My experience will enable me to hit the ground running on day one,” he said. “I will get things done. I will lead by example. I will always listen to you.”

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker moderated the forum.