May 3, 2023

With One-on-Ones at Local Establishments, Leighton Newlin Plans to Keep Listening

By Anne Levin

When Leighton Newlin was elected to Princeton Council in 2021, he promised voters that he would represent them and listen to them — not just during his campaign, but throughout his time in office. The Princeton native has been making an effort to fulfill that promise with “Leighton Listens,” a series of informal one-on-one chats with members of the public at such area locales as Sakrid Coffee Roasters, LiLLiPiES, and Arlee’s Raw Blends.

The gatherings have gone so well that Newlin has scheduled another round. On Wednesdays this month, between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., he plans to visit Earth’s End (May 3), Delizioso Bakery + Kitchen (May 10), Café Maman (May 17), Tipple & Rose (May 24), and Bagel Nook (May 31). The idea is twofold: to hear people’s comments and concerns, and give exposure to local establishments.

“It seems to me that if you’re really doing this job right, you don’t stop campaigning,” Newlin said this week. “You listen to people. And you keep it up.

It just makes sense to me to do a little bit more than show up. And by getting some exposure for local businesses at the same time, it’s a win-win.”

Newlin said he was struck by something Bishop William Barber said during a talk last Sunday at The Jewish Center of Princeton, where Barber delivered the 33rd Annual Amy Adina Schulman Memorial Lecture.

“His message was that people who are making rash decisions against the will of the people are not able to see the people,” Newlin said. “If they could see them, they would feel them. They would understand how poverty looks and feels. That just made sense to me, in a broad sense.”

While some who are angry about things going on in their communities have the resources to get organized and show up at municipal meetings to air their concerns, others do not. “There are people who want your attention but either can’t show up, or might feel they don’t want to show up,” Newlin said. “They might have some personal issues they want you to address, but they don’t want others to hear. So, meeting them one-on-one is really helpful.”

Talking to residents, Newlin has heard a variety of concerns. “One guy comes by almost every Wednesday to talk about parking on Bank Street,” he said. “A lady from Dodds Lane wanted to know about the development at 375 Terhune Road, where a 30-unit complex is going up. Another guy wanted to talk about how we have to be careful when we get add-ons to municipal projects with regard to engineering. He encouraged me to make sure plans we get are worth the money we’re spending.”

Two men who live on Witherspoon Street told Newlin they are worried about the coffee roaster that has been proposed for a new location of Sakrid Coffee at 300 Witherspoon Street, in the former Princeton Packet building. A woman told Newlin a contiguous sidewalk is needed on Terhune Road, from Mt. Lucas Road to North Harrison Street. Other concerns have centered around open space. Sometimes, Newlin gets positive feedback about the job the Council is doing. “You find out they like what you’re doing, and they want you to know that,” he said.

With the level of interest expressed at the first round of “Leighton Listens” events, scheduling the May gatherings made sense.

“These are places I go. I love my coffee in the morning, and I like getting it at different places,” Newlin said. “I like this town. I love being out and about. There are some really cool, eclectic places. People really need to experience Princeton, and what a great way to do it. I can take concerns back to my colleagues and share with them. We all care about people in Princeton. I’m listening not just for myself, but for the [governing] body.”