Lempert, Woodbridge ’65 battle to be inaugural mayor of unified town
As the local area prepares to undergo perhaps the most significant transformation in its history, two mayoral candidates each claim to be the right choice to lead Princeton through its transformation.
This November, voters in both the Princeton Borough and Princeton Township will vote for a single mayor for the first time, rather than electing two separate governments. Both Democratic candidate Liz Lempert and Republican candidate Richard Woodbridge ’65 support consolidation, the process by which the Borough and Township will become one municipality on Jan. 1. Both candidates serve on the Transition Task Force, the group responsible for overseeing the smooth implementation of consolidation.
Lempert, the current deputy mayor of the Township who has also served on the Township Committee, has lived in the area for the past 11 years and is married to University psychology professor Kenneth Norman. At this point, Lempert’s campaign strategy centers primarily on door-to-door canvassing and meeting with voters.
Lempert left a positive impression on the College Democrats when she met with them last spring during the lead-up to the Democratic primary. College Democrats president Natalie Sanchez ’14 said she is not concerned about Lempert’s electability, noting the Democrats’ voter registration edge.
Woodbridge shared the perspective that because of the partisan identity of the area, he considers himself the underdog in the campaign.
“We started from ground zero, as in nada. Nothing. No organization. No fundraising mechanism. No people. No nothing,” Woodbridge said. “There hasn’t been an independent, Republican, Tea Party member or a Green Party member that has been elected to the Borough or Township for 20 years now. It has been a long time since there has been any political diversity.”
Woodbridge has lived in the area on and off since 1945, and graduated from the University, where he served as senior class president, with an electrical engineering degree in 1965. He is married to the University’s Director of Community Relations Karen Woodbridge and has formerly served as mayor of the Township and on the Borough Council.
Despite the perceived sense of limited political diversity in the local Princeton area, College Republicans vice president David Will ’14 said he thought Woodbridge could appeal to non-Republicans.
“I met him several times through College Republicans,” Will said. "I am impressed with him for sure. He has a lot of experience and he seems to be gaining a lot of bipartisan support."
Woodbridge emphasized that his campaign is nonpartisan and inclusive.
“I hope it appeals to people who think independently,” Woodbridge said, noting that according to his estimate, 40 percent of his supporters are Democrats. “They have put larger political party affiliations aside and focus on the issues that affect Princeton ... I am just asking people to take a look.”
The consolidation of the two municipalities isn’t the only issue defining the race. Another, broader issue at the forefront of the campaign is the relationship between the local government and the University. Recently, town officials have objected to the University’s plan to construct an Arts and Transit Neighborhood, which would involve a relocation of the Dinky station.
The University has thrown its support behind Assembly Bill 2586, which would allow private colleges and universities to go forth with their development plans without local government approval. The bill has been officially opposed by both the Township and Borough.
Lempert and Woodbridge both oppose the bill as well.
“Local land use laws are important for the community to plan for development,” Lempert said.
Woodbridge called the bill “undemocratic” and “a bad precedent.”
“Having said that, I think the University has been trying to be a good citizen,” Woodbridge said. “Regardless of how the bill turns out, the University hopefully will work in a cooperative way with the town.”
Lempert said that despite the two parties’ disagreement over the bill, she thinks the town and the University can have amicable relations.
“It starts with recognition that our interests don’t always align 100 percent, but it is in both of our interests ... not to dwell in the past,” Lempert said.
Broadly, both candidates said they were compelled to run because of the sense of connection they feel with the community.
“It is a small town, but it has a world-class institution,” Lempert said. “It is a place where we have amazing talent in the community, and people are willing to volunteer their time.”
Touching on how the small town of Princeton has increasingly become a tourist attraction, long-time resident Woodbridge recalled, “I can remember Princeton being very different than it is today; it was a town where everybody knew your name. One has to remember that Princeton as we know it today has changed a lot from the past.”
“We should maintain the small-town feel but we are also becoming a regional center at the same time,” Woodbridge said. “The trick is to manage the increasing amount of visitors and people in the town, but also keep the small-town feel.”
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