Princeton Township Committeewoman Liz Lempert routed Borough Counciman Kevin Wilkes Sunday night at the candidate endorsement meeting for the local Democratic club, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization.
Lempert’s fellow Committeemen, Lance Liverman and Bernie Miller, received enough votes to meet the threshold for a full endorsement, as did Borough Councilwoman Heather Howard and newcomer Patrick Simon, the only non-incumbent to receive a full endorsement.
Candidates needed to receive at least 60 percent of the ballots cast to receive a full endorsement. Members of the PCDO were required to vote for a minimum of three candidates, and could vote for a maximum of six for new council that will lead the consolidated Princeton.
Four other Democratic council candidate received enough votes to run in the regular Democratic column in the June primary, but fell short of the full PCDO endorsement: Borough Councilwomen Jo Butler and Jenny Crumiller, and newcomers Scott Sillars and Tamera Matteo.
Borough Mayor Yina Moore and longtime Borough Councilman Roger Martindell did not win enough votes to receive a full or partial endorsement.
The meeting, held at the Jewish Center of Princeton and moderated by Deborah MacMillan of the League of Women Voters, was attended by more than 500 people. Some of them members of the public who were not members of the PCDO but wanted to observe the outcome of the meeting. Ballots were cast by 357 members of the 576 members of the PCDO who were eligible to vote. The breakdown of PCDO members who were eligible to vote Sunday was about 55 percent Township and about 45 percent Borough residents. It is not known yet what the breakdown was of those who actually showed up to vote Sunday.
Lempert received 61.4 percent of the votes cast, while Wilkes earned 34.8 percent of the votes. Some people did not endorse a mayoral candidate.
Howard, who works at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, was the top vote getter for the council endorsements with 300 votes, or 85 percent. Liverman, a real estate developer and manager, came in second with 223 votes. Simon, a senior director with Princeton Consultants, Inc., had 221 votes and Miller, a retiree and former Township mayor, received 214 votes.
Crumiller, a co-chair for the Princeton Obama headquarters in 2008, earned a partial endorsement with 175 votes. Sillars, a retiree, had 158 votes. Butler, a senior education leadership search consultant with Wickenden Associates, had 151 votes. Matteo, a former business owner and PTO president, received 150 votes.
Martindell, a lawyer based in Princeton, earned 135 votes. Moore, a transportation and planning expert, had 97 votes.
Wilkes and Lempert answered questions about downtown Princeton, diversity and affordable housing, charter schools, the recent property value reevaluation, the local Hispanic community, and relations with Princeton University.
Wilkes, an architect who owns Princeton Design Guild, said the town needs to work collaboratively with the University, Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Choir College.
“The community suffers as the University expands,” he said. “We need to come up with strategies to preserve neighborhoods. We have an ability as evidenced in the past year to bring the University to the table to develop advanced transit strategies. The best way to work is through pen and ongoing discussions, frequents and continually.”
Lempert, who was formerly a producer and editor for NPR’s environmental program, “Living On Earth” and whose husband works for the University, stressed the need for open negotiations with the University. When considering the future of Princeton, she said the historic character of the downtown needs to be maintained while making sure it is affordable to all.
“I want to see a place that does not look radically different from what it is today,” she said. “I don’t want to see the downtown dominated by fancy chain stores and luxury condos.”
Wilkes said the town should make improvements in the areas of streetscape design, sidewalks and lighting, cleanliness, and trash and recycling collection for businesses — not just along Nassau Street, but along Witherspoon Street — and that the town should create more parks.
Lempert said she opposes the creation of a special improvement district downtown, and that if one is created it should be because the merchants want it, not because it is forced on them by officials.
Asked about the 2009 property revaluation, Lempert said officials have been tracking the housing market very carefully and based on home sales, the revaluation is accurate.
Wilkes said the market saw dynamic change, that neighborhood boundaries in the Township and Borough played a role in assessments and will be changed now as as result of the revaluation, and said the revaluation should be reexamined in the future.
Council Candidates gave opening statements, but then answered different questions instead of all 10 candidates answering the same question. Incumbent Jenny Crumiller was ill and could not attend, so son Evan Crumiller read an opening and closing statement for her.
Police staffing after consolidation, University relations, and affordable housing were top issues. Everyone agreed that property taxes need to be stabilized or reduced (surprise). Some candidates said the University needs to increase its contribution to the town.
The gathering set a record for the largest turn out of PCDO members for an endorsement meeting. In 2008, 240 of 496 members voted. In 2006, 216 out of 377 members voted. Last year, there were 200 ballots cast out of about 400 members, said Dan Preston, head of the PCDO.
As the evening dragged on because of the large ballot count, about 30 people remained when the final results came in after 11:15 p.m.
Monday night the local Democratic municipal committee will meet to review the results and select candidates to endorse. The committee will also vote on draft rules regarding the endorsement process. Some members have complained because the rules are being adopted after the outcome of the PCDO endorsement meeting, and say the rules should have been adopted prior to the meeting so that the outcome of the PCDO endorsement meeting wouldn’t influence the committee’s choices.
While a candidate can run in the primary without the endorsement and win, the endorsement often carries a great deal of weight in the Democrat-dominated Princetons.