It was a major night for elected officials up and down the Garden State. Local Princeton elections were dominated by a long-running controversy about the recent resignation of Princeton Public School Superintendent Dr. Carol Kelley, and an opponent of the superintendent won a seat on the board. Democrats dominated in deep blue Mercer County and notched important wins in tightly contested state legislative elections amid major wins for Democrats nationwide.
Supporter of the former superintendent loses in school board election
Five contenders ran for three spots on the Princeton School Board. Beth Behrend won reelection for her third term, while newcomers Adam Bierman and Eleanor Hubbard won seats on the board. Incumbent Michele Tuck-Ponder was unseated.
There were 15,859 votes cast, with several major issues at the heart of the race including the termination of the contract of a Princeton High School principal, a bond referendum, a middle school math grade tracking program, and the resignation of the Princeton Public School Superintendent.
After three previous attempts to win a seat on the board, Bierman sold his “outsider” status. In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, Bierman stated that “the status quo needs to be fixed,” calling the previous board “myopic, insular, and too complacent for my taste.”
Bierman blamed the previous board for hiring Dr. Kelley, whose tenure he called a “disaster.” During her term, she dismissed a well-liked Princeton High School principal. There was also controversy about whether Kelley and a consultant that she hired were focusing on equity in math at the expense of educational outcomes, a debate that has raged across the country. Kelley resigned at the end of October.
On Oct. 30, the Board of Education voted 7-1 to accept Dr. Kelley’s resignation. Tuck-Ponder was the lone “no” vote, while Behrend supported her resignation. In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Hubbard said, “Tuck-Ponder’s failure to win re-election reflects a widespread consensus that Dr. Kelley was not a good fit for our district.” Behrend previously supported Kelley in not voting to reinstate the Princeton High School principal.
Hubbard added that she will “take part in selecting a competent, steady interim superintendent as well as a permanent superintendent who will lead our district in a positive direction.”
Another topic of the election was the district budget. Bierman wrote that “PPS has the third highest spending per student of the 97 school districts in our peer group … we have spent over 200 million dollars on our buildings, which are still in poor shape.” Among Hubbard’s goals are managing school finances in light of state changes, in her words, “coping with the fiscal pressures imposed by the 2 percent cap on property tax increases.”
Princeton voters this election cycle approved a $12.9 million bond referendum that will provide funding for security and technology upgrades at the six Princeton public schools. The bond referendum will allow schools to receive security and camera upgrades, protective window film, and upgraded doors and locks.
Princeton’s town council races were uncontested, and David Cohen (D) and Leticia Fraga (D) won re-election.
Democrats dominate in Mercer County
Daniel Benson (D) defeated Lisa Richford (R) for Mercer County Executive with 69.0 percent of the vote. Benson is currently the assemblyman for NJ District 14, but decided to run for County Executive instead of the State Assembly. The result was unsurprising in a deep blue county.
Benson told the ‘Prince’ that he hopes to fix the county’s finances. He wrote, “I’ll put an end to fiscal mismanagement by hiring qualified staff who are subject to rigorous oversight. We will put strong financial practices in place that put us on the right track.”
When asked how he will seek to impact the Princeton University community, Benson wrote that his administration will aim to upgrade the infrastructure throughout the county, expand bike lanes, fix roads and bridges, and expand transportation equity to ensure everyone can get where they need to go. He also said that he will prioritize clean energy by increasing the number of electric vehicle chargers and working to update the vehicles county workers use.
Incumbent John “Jack” Kemler (D) was re-elected as Mercer County Sheriff. He has been Mercer County Sheriff since 2010. This year, he faced opposition from Bryan “Bucky” Boccanfuso (R) and Drew Cifrodelli (L).
The County Board of Commissioners saw four candidates run: Lucylle Walter (D), John Cimino (D), Joseph Stillwell (R), Denise “Neicy” Turner (R), with the two incumbent Democrats prevailing.
Democrats running on abortion defeat Republicans in tightly contested legislative districts
At the state level, all 120 seats in the N.J. state legislature were up for election. The Princeton area was tightly contested at the State Senate and State Assembly level.
In N.J.’s 16th Legislative District which encompasses Princeton, incumbent Andrew Zwicker (D), defeated Michael Pappas (R) and Richard Byrne (L) for the State Senate seat, securing his second term as State Senator. The margin was 55.4 percent for Zwicker and 43.2 percent for Pappas. He first secured the seat in 2021, when he became the first Democrat to win the 16th District’s Senate seat.
Zwicker is the Head of Communications and Public Outreach at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.
Democrats Roy Freiman and Mitchelle Drulis won the multi-member General Assembly district in the Princeton area over Republicans Ross Traphagen and Grace Zhang. This will be Freiman’s second term, which he won with 31,294 votes and Drulis’s first term in the Assembly, which she won with 30,793 votes. Drulis will replace Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer, the first person of color and first Democrat woman to represent the 16th district, who decided not to run for a second term. The two Republicans followed closely at 25,400 for Zhang and 25,126 for Traphagan.
Jaffer is an Associate Research Scholar and lecturer at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
Zwicker, Freiman, and Drulis ran on a common platform slogan, “Turning today’s challenges into tomorrow’s possibilities.” The team focused their campaign on protecting women’s reproductive freedom, fighting for fair pay for frontline workers, keeping communities safe from gun violence, expanding the senior property tax freeze, and helping restaurants and small businesses with tax relief.
The Republicans focused on education, with Pappas citing “indoctrination in schools.” Traphagan criticized “overdevelopment,” or more housing developments in the area.
Zwicker, Pappas, Freiman, Drulis, Traphagen, and Zhang have not responded to requests for comment.
Both the State Senate and the General Assembly remained majority democratic with 25 Democrats to 15 Republicans in the Senate and 51 Democrats to 29 Republicans in the General Assembly.
Abby Leibowitz is a staff News writer for the 'Prince.'
Hannah Gabelnick is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.