A jubilant Liz Lempert defeated Princeton Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes for the Princeton Democratic mayoral nomination in one of the most hotly contested local primary races in recent memory Tuesday night.
Lempert won the primary race by an unofficial vote of 2,055 to 1,105 votes. The turnout was higher than usual for the Democratic primary at about 35 percent of registered Democratic voters.
Democrats packed Conte’s Tuesday night as the votes were tallied and then Lempert addressed the crowd.
“Tonight is about unity,” Lempert told Democrats as she stood on a chair and addressed the group. “We all stand for Democratic values.”
She thanked her supporters for all their hard work, and said she was proud of running a positive campaign that was a grassroots effort. “We’ve already started to bring people in Princeton together.”
“It was a grueling race,” Lempert said, as she acknowledged opponent Kevin Wilkes for waging an aggressive challenge. Though Lempert easily won the endorsement of the local party, in recent weeks Wilkes seemed to be gaining some momentum.
“I congratulate Liz on a good race,” Wilkes said. “She has my full support for the November election.”
Borough Council incumbents Heather Howard, Jenny Crumiller, and Jo Butler won the Democratic nomination for the six seats available on the council for the consolidated Princeton, along with Borough newcomer Patrick Simon. Township Committee incumbents Lance Liverman and Bernie Miller were the other two winners in the Democratic council primary.
“We have a strong team going in to the fall election,” Howard said. “We now have to deliver the savings and other benefits that were promised to the voters who supported consolidation.”
Butler said she is looking forward to working for the united Princeton. “We have a lot of work to do in the coming months to make consolidation successful,” she said.
Simon, the lone newcomer to win in the primary, said he was thrilled to have done well as a first-time candidate. “It has been a wonderful experience running at a historic time for Princeton as we become one town,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of that.”
The Democrats ousted longtime Borough Councilman Roger Martindell in the primary. Newcomers Tamera Matteo and Scott Sillars also lost.
“I still have five months left in my term, and I’m looking forward to serving those final months,” said Martindell, who was been a Borough councilman for more than two decades.
With 2,208 votes, Liverman was the top vote getter, followed by Howard with 2,187 votes, Miller with 2,170 votes, Simon with 1,941 votes, Crumiller with 1,923 votes, and Butler with 1,755 votes.
Sillars had 1,413 votes, Matteo received 1,326 votes and Martindell had 1,041 votes.
All of the winners in the Democratic mayoral and council primaries were part of the official slate backed by the local municipal committees, and all the winning candidates ran in the same column on the ballot. Sillars and Matteo were at the bottom of the column. Wilkes and Martindell were in a separate column.
“We had an amazing field of candidates and it was a vigorous contest,” said Dan Preston, president of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization. “We had two very qualified candidates for mayor.”
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, who lives in Princeton Township, said the primary winners represented a good mix of officials from the Borough and the Township to lead Princeton into a new era. “I also expect we’ll see more new faces vying for positions in the near future.”
In the Republican primary, former Princeton Township Mayor and former Borough Councilman Dick Woodbridge ran uncontested for mayor and received 481 votes. Geoff Aton was the lone candidate running in the Republican primary for council, and received 438 votes. Just under 25 percent of registered Republicans voted.
Township Committeewoman Sue Nemeth lost her bid for the state Assembly. In Princeton, she won triple the support of Marie Corfield in the 16th district race, with 2,175 votes to Corfield’s 729 votes. But the teacher who is best known for criticizing Gov. Chris Christie at a town hall meeting won in the other three counties that comprise the district.
The new 16th District leans Republican. Incumbent Donna Simon, who won the Assembly seat in a special election after the death of Peter Biondi, ran unopposed in the Republican primary.