The two candidates, Democrat Liz Lempert and Republican Richard Woodbridge ’65, presented their opinions at a debate at the Jewish Center of Princeton. The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters and Princeton Community TV.
Voters will head to the polls on Nov. 6 to choose between Lempert, the Township’s deputy mayor, and Woodbridge, a former Borough councilman and Township mayor, in the first election to lead the consolidated Princeton.
Woodbridge stressed the need for reconciliation with the University following years of contention.
“I believe the relationship has deteriorated. I certainly have split feelings about it,” said Woodbridge, who is a graduate of the University and who is married to the University’s director of community relations. “I think there needs to be a coming-together,” he said.
Woodbridge said he would create a liaison commission to meet with University representatives a few times a year to “talk about where the University plans to go” and better allow for communication about both the University’s and the community’s goals.
Lempert also advocated a more communicative approach to the University relationship.
“On areas where we disagree, which often come up over planning, we need to have a good, respectful dialogue, and I think we do that by having the door open,” she said.
Lempert cited the voluntary payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement the University signed with the Township government last year as an example of a constructive agreement reached through town-gown communication.
Candidates also offered different perspectives on what to do with the Valley Road School building, which has been unmaintained since the school’s closing in the early 1970s. While the building is currently owned by Princeton Regional Schools, a few competing proposals have been put forth to repurpose the lot and facility.
Woodbridge, who attended Valley Road School himself, is one of the founding members of a citizens’ group that seeks to convert the school into a community center that would house nonprofit organizations.
“Our attitude is use it or lose it,” Woodbridge said, saying that the school board had so far chosen to continue owning the school but had not maintained it well. “If you take a look at the back of the building, it looks like a crack house.” He added that his organization could take the building over as a community asset at no expense to the town.
Lempert expressed wariness about the idea of turning a publicly owned building over to a private nonprofit organization that would maintain it. “Ultimately, this building is owned by the taxpayers, and I think that the school board would be remiss to hand over a private asset to a group of private individuals, no matter how honorable their intentions,” she said.
“Having a community center there would be wonderful, but it’s important that the finances work out before the school district were to turn it over,” she added.
The two also tussled over their partisan identifications, which give Lempert, the Democrat, the upper hand in a heavily Democratic town. While Woodbridge has been nominated by the Republican Party, he described his campaign as nonpartisan.
“I’ve always felt that local issues such as potholes, traffic, those sort of things, have no political ... flavor. I think it’s a mistake especially if national politics starts to invade the local issues,” he explained.
Lempert said she disagreed with the position that party affiliation should not matter in local issues. She explained that she believes in Democratic values, which she said are “issues at the national level that translate directly to the local level and local governance.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/12/31488/