Would Dems Still Dominate? The Consolidation of the Two Princetons and Its Affects on Local Politics
Part Two in a Series
Many borough residents fear they would lose their voice in government if the two Princetons are consolidated, because township voters would outnumber them two to one. But supporters of consolidation tried to assure them at a public forum Tuesday night that borough and township voters share similar sensibilities and concerns.
Dan Preston, a township resident and head of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, who has been a vocal supporter of consolidation, said a large percentage of the township population is located near borough borders and cares about the same issues borough voters do like having a vibrant downtown, a walkable community, and strong public transit.
“The bottom line is, the inner part of township is walkable,” he said. “Some areas are more borough like than the borough.”
Preston argued that the idea that township voters would outnumber borough voters is premised on a false notion that township voters are fundamentally different than borough voters.
He argued that recent gubernatorial and congressional elections show that borough and township residents share the same values, with Democrats dominating in both municipalities by similar percentages in the 2009 and 2010 elections.
“If people were fundamentally different, it would show up in who they vote for,” Preston said. “It turns out there is no difference…the people and their attitudes are the same. I don’t care which side of the line you are on. People are very much like one another.”
Borough resident Tina Clement, a Democrat, said she does not find voting patterns at the state and national level to be relevant when it comes to the consolidation issue.
“Those of us who are Dems may vote the same at the state and federal level, but local issues are very different,” Clement said. “I may vote one way at the state and federal level, but I might not vote the same way locally, because one has nothing to do with the other. The issues should be separated.”
Borough Republican Committee Chairman and council candidate Dudley Sipprelle stressed that there are Republicans in both municipalities and said they were not given a voice in the commission’s recommendation process.
“I’ve sat here and listened to people say this is an entirely Democratic community and that means we are all of the same persuasion, but the point has to be made – local government and good governance is not a partisan issue,” Sipprelle said.
He argued that when it comes to local politics and the issue of consolidation, borough voters will need to be convinced that their quality of life will be improved and that consolidation will save money.
“Even though this is an overwhelmingly Democratic community, the same community squashed the last consolidation referendum by a vote of 55 percent.”
Sipprelle questioned the consolidation commission’s choice to maintain the borough form of government in a combined Princeton instead of choosing some other form like a ward system, saying a united Princeton would shift from two governing bodies with a total of 11 elected officials to one body with six officials for a merged community of almost 20 square miles.
“Voters will have the opportunity to decide whether this was a good decision,” he said, arguing that the form of government would deny the borough a guaranteed voice.
“As I knock on doors in the borough, people are telling me they are against consolidation and some of them are Democrats,” Sipprelle said. “In a community that prides itself in diversity – gender, economic and racial – the one group that has never quite figured in to the diversity argument is Republicans. We are disenfranchised and will continue to be.
“If we had a ward system we might even have a Republican on the council,” Sipprelle said. “If the consolidation commission had included a Republican, there might have been a different conclusion reached and we might not even be having this argument tonight.”
The consolidation commission did consider a ward system, but decided against it, arguing that local officials would not have a say in how the wards are drawn up.
Friday: Elected officials weigh in on consolidation at joint meeting.
My point wasn’t anything to do with whether Dems would dominate after consolidation. My point is that every bit of evidence (whether demographic, economic or voting history) indicates that Borough and Township populations are indistinguishable – both are equally diverse in every measure we have available. Both communities have similar percentages preferring Democratic candidates, and similar percentages preferring Republicans. The commission has previously presented evidence that both communities are almost equally diverse in terms of race, income, age distribution and other measures.
Dense population centers and their surrounding suburbs typically do exhibit very different voting patterns. Usually the center votes Democratic and the suburbs lean much more Republican. If there really were significant differences between the values held by Borough and Township voters, you would expect at least some difference in voting preferences. Data on voting in state and national races is not a perfect indicator of how people will vote in local races, but the lack of any significant difference between the Borough and Township is an important piece of evidence. Given the same set of choices, we make very similar decisions.
Opponents of uniting our community contend that there is some invisible yet unbridgeable difference, some great difference in “culture”, but offer no evidence that I’ve seen to date. I challenge opponents of consolidation to come up with something, anything that would support their claims that somehow Borough and Township people are fundamentally different from each other – especially anything significant enough to keep our community divided.
There is one important difference between Borough and Township residents: most Borough residents are withing comfortable walking distance of our downtown; most Township residents are not.
If we consolidate our two municipalities, the lack of parking is likely to be remedied through the construction of more parking garages. “Township” voters (those who need to drive to the downtown) will outnumber “Borough” voters (those who walk and would prefer not to make the downtown any more dense than it already is). As many have observed, the voting ratio will be approximately two to one — making it highly likely that the Township’s reasonable desire for parking will be accommodated at the cost of transforming areas that are currently open, low density commercial, or single family lots. Once started, that process is difficult to stop.
How voters vote in state and federal elections doesn’t say much about local politics. The Boro Council and Township Committee are taking a very different approach to the Dinky issue. In the past they took a very different approach to the location of the library. Boro Council member David Goldfarb said that there was not one Township Committee member who was for locating the library downtown. I disagree with Marvin Reed’s interpretation of Township support for the location of the library downtown as well. There may well have been some Township residents who favored putting it downtown, but the political power in the Township lay with siting it outside the center. TOWNSHIP RESIDENTS WHO VALUE WALKABILITY SHOUD VOTE FOR SUSTAINABILITY BY VOTING NO ON CONSOLIDATION.
P.S. Bob Whiteside (perhaps after you left the Tuesday meeting Dan) said that Boro and Township voters vote differently on the school budget. He knows because he follows that process closely. Township voters favor approving it more than do Boro voters. He said no matter what you think of the school budget, THIS IS A DISTINCT DIFFERENCE.
P.P.S Our community is not divided. It’s UnitePrinceton buttons that suggest that it is, not those who oppose consolidation.
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