Eve Niedergang GS ’85 is a member of the Princeton Town Council running for re-election in 2021. First elected in 2018, she has served one term on the council and is running unopposed to retain her seat.
This transcript has been lightly edited for concision and clarity.
The Daily Princetonian: I want to start with a broad question. You went to Cornell and Princeton for graduate school; you’re very highly educated. So why local government?
Eve Niedergang: I did not see myself as running for office or becoming an elected official. I think that the opportunity presented itself, and honestly, someone suggested to me that I run, and that kind of crystallized it. I've been involved in the local community for a long time, doing various volunteer things, from the PTO [Parent Teacher Organization] at Riverside School that my kids went to and then running the library book sale. I'm the volunteer coordinator at the Watershed, so I work with a lot of volunteers. So even though council technically is not a volunteer job, in terms of the fact that there’s a salary, it’s really a volunteer job. The salary doesn’t even begin to compensate for the hours involved. [laughs]
So I felt like this is where I could make a difference in a community I knew and loved, and had already been volunteering for in a lot of ways. I saw this as an extension of that. I never thought about running for other office — it’s hard for me to imagine that happening. The scale is so much smaller here. You can really work with people individually to understand their needs and their concerns, and that’s very appealing to me. That’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. And to use this as an opportunity to build community and to have people feel connected — that’s been very important to me for a long time.
DP: Let’s look back at your past term. You’ve been involved in multiple high-impact initiatives, from affordable housing to climate change to the Cannabis Task Force. What do you see as your biggest accomplishment?
EN: Well, this is not on your list, but we hired a new administrator [Bernard Hvozdovic Jr.] this year. And the company, Jersey Professional Management, that helped us with the search told us over and over again that this was the most important thing that we would do as council members. [Councilmember] Leticia Fraga and Mayor Mark Freda were also on the commission, and I was the head of that group. So I have to trust him on that and point that out as a really important initiative, that I'm hoping our new administrator will be here for the next 10 years. So I would say that’s an accomplishment I'm really proud of.
DP: What was your biggest challenge?
EN: The biggest challenge is starting off and learning how things work. It's like a firehose of information. And when you think about the scope of what the government does, there’s just so many different things that you need to learn. Not to know enough to be a professional by any means, but know enough to have a reasonably intelligent conversation on everything. And each individual on the council serves on a number of committees, so we definitely defer to each other to ask questions about other areas that we’re not as directly involved in.
But when something comes up to vote, that’s your vote. And you cannot rely on anyone else to do that homework for you. You can have conversations with them, but you really need to cast a vote and feel comfortable that you educated yourself and you knew enough to make that decision. I would say that’s been the biggest challenge: knowing enough to feel comfortable making decisions. And also knowing, mostly when a constituent sends you an email and they have a complaint, that you know who to go to.
DP: Similar questions for this next term. Looking ahead, what is your biggest priority, and what challenges do you foresee?
EN: Even though I’m not directly involved in our Redevelopment Committee, which works on our affordable housing, I would say that's definitely one of the biggest priorities for the council as a whole. I think we've come up with a really good affordable housing plan. And now we’re in the process of getting that into place — in particular, the Franklin Affordable Housing Development. That’s going to be a really important component of affordable housing. And I hope that we continue to be able to protect additional open space and take concrete steps to deal with the climate emergency. There’s a lot of great ideas from our environmental community. Unfortunately, not all of them can be enacted because New Jersey law actually gives local government a pretty narrow range of options.
And then there are things that’ll come up that I don’t even know about now. I had no idea in December of 2020 that there was going to be a Cannabis Task Force, or that I was going to be the head of it. And a couple of months before that, I didn’t know that the sustainable landscaping initiative was going to happen.
DP: In looking at the relationship between the town and the University, where do you see areas to strengthen and continue to shape it?
EN: I cannot tell you how thrilled I and other members of the Council have been at the University’s willingness to work with the community and the municipality regarding the Prospect Avenue issues that have come up recently. I think that’s indicative of a more cooperative relationship between the University and the town. We have so many interests in common. For example, climate change, we are absolutely all in that together.
Similarly, I think that the town and the University really share an interest in having Princeton as a community remain diverse, both in terms of racial makeup and in terms of economic makeup. For the University to attract the best faculty, the best scholars, the best students, that's what those individuals want to see as well. They don’t want to move to a community that’s monolithic.
Another area [where] I think the University and the town really share common needs and it would be helpful to expand on is Tigerlabs, where [there are] incubator projects and other types of things that can bring more jobs and more businesses into Princeton, and facilitate the University’s expansion into those types of ideas. In those types of projects during the pandemic, the University has been a tremendous partner, really helping with our commitment to helping people that were hit really hard by the pandemic. They really stepped up, and we’re very grateful for that. The University doesn’t flourish if the town doesn’t flourish, and vice versa.
DP: If a student of the University wants to become more involved with the town, what would you tell them?
EN: There’s a number of things that students can do. We do have students serve on our boards and commissions. For example, there’s a student member of the Cannabis Task Force, and there are student members, I think, on the Civil Rights Commission. We have a graduate student who serves on the environmental commission. So that’s something that would require a couple of years’ commitment. The normal term is three years, but if there's an area that somebody is particularly interested in, that’s definitely something that they can do.
And even if they don’t want to become a full member, a lot of our work gets done through our boards and commissions. It’s often where ideas trickle up. And if you have something — we had a student come to our last Council meeting on Monday to talk about accessibility issues. That’s really valuable. We love to hear from people in our community – students and everyone else. If there’s a pressing issue, come to council, make a comment, bring something to our attention. I think our chief engineer was going to reach out to the young woman who commented to maybe have an actual walkthrough to see what some of the obstacles might be. So those are various ways that people can get involved.
I mean, there are also other types of opportunities that do not strictly have to do with the government: tutoring opportunities at the high school, groups like Friends of Princeton Open Space that have workgroups where people do plant [maintenance] or work on trails or Herrontown Woods. There are all kinds of opportunities like that to get involved in the community.
DP: I have one final question for you. It’s very prevalent on campus. The question is, why Princeton?
EN: [laughs] Why Princeton? I think one of the things that makes Princeton really unique, and one of the reasons why after graduate school my husband and I decided to settle here, is that it is a livable community. It has a downtown — or as older Princetonians who grew up here call it, the uptown. And it’s a walkable, bike-able community with incredible diversity. People come here from all over the world, all over the country. Last year, I put together the flood and stormwater committee, and it turned out that a couple of the best experts on various issues relating to flooding and stormwater moved to Princeton. One of the members of the Cannabis Task Force is a doctor who is nationally known for his advocacy on the issue of cannabis. So the University and the town combined really attract people to the community, whether they’re officially associated with the University or not, that have an incredible amount to give, just absolutely phenomenal expertise. All these individuals are here to work together, to make the community they live in, work in, better – it’s just phenomenal.
It never ceases to amaze me, just in the course of daily work I’ll get an email from somebody about a mundane issue, and then I’ll think, “that name looks familiar.” And it’s like, oh, that person won a Pulitzer Prize. That person won a MacArthur. Like, this is the community that we’re living in, and it’s absolutely extraordinary: the resources, knowledge, expertise, and passion that are available here.
The problems are big, and they’re serious. But we have some great minds here that can help us work on them, and not every town is that lucky.
DP: That’s a great answer. Thank you so much.
EN: [laughs] You’re welcome so much.
DP: I really appreciate it. Have fun knocking on doors today. Congratulations again on your victory.
EN: Thank you! But still don’t forget to vote!