Princeton Mayor Lempert looks to the U. as she begins her second term| Feb 12, 2017
In reflecting upon her first term and goals for her second, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert emphasized the importance of maintaining the strong relationship between the municipality of Princeton and the University in order to create a more environmentally concerned, historically aware, and civically engaged community.
“The relationship right now between the town and the University is the best and most productive that it’s been in many, many years,” Lempert explained.
Lempert credits this relationship as a contributing source to many of her proudest accomplishments in her first term.
“We’re working together on shared goals, such as better transportation,” she said. As a result of these mutual goals, various systems have been implemented in order to move the community towards a more sustainable future.
Among said systems is the presence of Zagster bikes in Princeton. In describing the Zagster bike system on the University campus and in the town, Lempert noted how “the University did the first step” in placing Zagster stations around campus, and the town responded with a station at the Princeton Shopping Center. She added that the town recently received a grant to expand the program throughout the town, and that those plans are slated to launch this spring.
Lempert spoke to another one of her favorite achievements in her first term: the creation of a historical district in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, Princeton’s historically African-American neighborhood. She explained how the University’s dialogue on Woodrow Wilson’s legacy helped the town understand the importance of this district.
“It was good education for the community, too … It came around the same time the University was having the conversation about Woodrow Wilson, and it’s important as a community that we all know our history and know the impacts of the history on how our communities are set up today,” Lempert noted.
She also spoke to the opportunities that University students have to get involved with the town. The town is “working with the Tiger Challenge and with professors throughout the University in terms of engaging students in projects that the municipality is working on,” she said.
Lempert views the current political climate as an incentive for students to be even more engaged in government, especially at the municipal level.
“I find that this is a really exciting time to be in local government, in part because there’s so much dysfunction at the federal level and the state level, unfortunately, here in New Jersey,” she said. “That, for students who are looking to work on a project and get engaged and actually accomplish and do something, doing something on the municipal level is a great option and the projects also have the advantage of being at a more manageable scale.”
She added that such collaborations are mutually beneficial, with students gaining valuable skills as the town grows in response.
“We’re working to try to engage more students, more professors. There’s a lot of really smart people on campus, and we’d like to have those collaborations to help the town do a better job,” Lempert explained.
Outside of continuing to build the relationship with the University, Lempert looks forward to establishing firmer connections with other establishments in town in her second term.
“We’re positioned now, I think, to do more collaborations with other institutions in town,” she said. One of these institutions is the school district.
“One of our goals this year is to look at our relationship with the school district and see are there cost savings there in terms of things like facilities, what can we be doing together with the library,” she said.
Despite growing up in California, Lempert has a special connection with Princeton, touching on several of her favorite characteristics of the town.
“It’s an amazing place. It’s my favorite place I’ve ever lived,” said Lempert. "And there’s a real sense of community and giving back . . . The expertise of people willing to volunteer their time is pretty amazing.”
For Lempert, the University affords tremendous opportunities for the town.
“The University makes this town what it is, and I think provides so many amazing cultural resources … in a lot of ways [Princeton] has a lot of the amenities of a city, but it’s a small town,” she explained.
With this attractive quality in mind, Lempert explained what she sees as one of the biggest challenges facing the town.
“How do we maintain that relationship with the University where the University in particular has incredible growth needs and development needs, but they’re situated in small town?” she said.
Ultimately, Lempert sees the town as a “really special, unique place to live,” and with this she believes comes a great responsibility for its inhabitants.
“I encourage, to the degree that students are interested, that they find some ways to engage,” she said.
“There’s an opportunity I think because there is a higher level of interest in — not just with students, I mean we’re finding this with other residents, too — of people wanting to get engaged, wanting to know what’s happening, realizing that in democracy we all have a responsibility to take an active role in shaping the kind of community we want to live in,” Lempert said.
She also stressed the importance of maintaining the essence of the town while adapting to growth pressures.
“There can be a lot of assumptions that outsiders have about Princeton University,” Lempert said. “I think being a place where all of the students are people of incredible privilege, and, you know, we know that’s not true. And same is true for the town. There’s a lot of diversity here, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on.”
Lempert also said that she hopes more students will become more involved in town affairs.
“We try as a government to be innovative, to be leaders in the governing world, and we encourage students who are interested to get involved and to find out what’s going on,” Lempert said.