Democratic Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes, an architect and local business owner, has announced his bid to serve as the first mayor of the unified Princeton.
Wilkes said as mayor, he would implement the promise of consolidation to ease the tax burden for residents by continuing to streamline municipal expenses.
“Consolidation was passed because of a promise of savings in taxes and government,” he said. “The consolidation report was conservative in its cost-saving estimates, but I believe we can create savings beyond those outlined in the report while providing the effective delivery of services that all Princetonians have come to rely on.”
Wilkes, who has lived in both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township and is a former Township employee, said his knowledge of both towns and a comprehensive regional understanding will be key to realizing the goals of consolidation.
“Our two municipalities are about to undergo major changes as we combine and create one town with a much bigger population and geographic area,” he said. “I will help our community realize the goals of consolidation: a leaner and more efficient government.”
Former Borough mayors Mildred Trotman and Marvin Reed have endorsed Wilkes.
“When Kevin was Council President, I gained enormous respect for his ability to articulate, and — then lead his colleagues to implement — reasoned solutions to community needs,” Trotman said in a news release.
“Wilkes will bring a record of accomplishment to our new government,” added Reed. “He understands the intricacies of the largest services, but beyond that, I’ve seen his civic leadership bring our community together.”
Wilkes said central elements of his administration would be working to improve the downtown quality of life, collaborating with private and in-town institutions, unifying and improving police services, preserving environmentally sensitive areas, enhancing senior and youth programs, improving transportation, and create new affordable housing.
“We need to sustain local businesses that serve the needs of our residents, and a responsive, transparent new Princeton government is a means to achieve that,” Wilkes said.
In 2008, Wilkes joined the Borough Council following the retirement of Councilwoman Wendy Benchley. Elected to a full term the following year, Wilkes has served as council president, police commissioner, finance committee member, and liaison to the traffic and transportation committee, human services commission, recreation board and sewer operating committee. He served as Princeton Township’s building inspector from 1991 to 1994.
Born in Atlanta, Wilkes grew up in New York and attended Princeton University. He fell in love with the charming and historic character of the town when he was a student, bought his first home in the township and later started his own architecture and design firm, Princeton Design Guild. He helped spearhead the collaborative design and architectural efforts Princeton Writers Block and Quark Park, which were located on the vacant lot now filled in by the Residences at Palmer Square, and also became active with the civic group Princeton Future. He says involvement in local politics was not on his radar, but he decided to give it a try with the encouragement of then mayor Joe O’Neill.
During his tenure on Borough Council, Wilkes said the Council has held the tax rate flat for three consecutive budgets and the governing body is pushing to do so again this year. “We achieved a zero tax increase by controlling Borough costs and joint agency costs, and by adjusting non-tax income such as parking rates and donations from institutions,” he said. “We’ve really put the concerns of our taxpayers at the forefront of our work.”
Wilkes, who has served as a police commissioner for the last two years, said the police department has made great strides and the leadership structure has been stabilized under new Chief David Dudeck. “We’ve improved officer morale dramatically as well as community outreach,” he said.
The traffic and transportation committee has helped make significant improvements for pedestrians such as adding new crosswalks and signals, and a safety awareness program will be kicked off in April. Wilkes said he was able to work with merchants and the NJDOT to get the Route 1 jughandle trail postponed. He said he is also proud of the transit agreement with Princeton University for joint future transit planning.
Wilkes will face Liz Lempert in the Democratic primary. Borough Mayor Yina Moore has not said whether she will seek re-election.