It’s not the height of primary season yet, but the Democratic slate seeking to sweep the Princeton Council race has been running an unprecedented campaign to get potential supporters to register as members of the local Democratic party club, the Princeton Democratic Organization, for the upcoming endorsement meeting.
The slate, Councilman Bernie Miller and his former colleague on the Princeton Township Committee, Sue Nemeth, emailed potential club members several times, sent a mass mailing to all registered Democrats in Princeton, and held a phone bank on a recent weekend. In an email that went out to Democrats March 12, the pair even offered to provide babysitters and rides for attendees for the endorsement meeting.
“Wondering if your lone vote will really make a difference? Read what happened in Ohio last year…Please plan to attend the meeting on March 30th. We’re arranging sitters and offering rides! If you need assistance, please let us know,” reads the email. “Lastly, don’t be fooled by misleading headlines. We’re fighting to win this election and look forward to serving out full terms on Council as your representatives.”
The deadline to register for the club and be able to vote at the endorsement meeting is tonight at 11:59 p.m. tonight. Residents who are Democrats in Princeton can register to be a member of the club online or can drop off a registration from at 135 Terhune Road. The endorsement meeting is Sunday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m. at the Suzanne Paterson Center.
While the endorsement of the club does not guarantee a win in the primary, not getting the endorsement is a difficult hurdle for most candidates to overcome to win. There is a $15 fee to joint the club. Many Democrats have criticized the fee, calling it a poll tax. The club allows people to register for a reduced fee of $5, but only by mail or dropping off a check, not by registering online.
Miller and Nemeth are backed by Mayor Liz Lempert and Council members Heather Howard and Lance Liverman. The group, which wants to oust fellow Democratic Councilwoman Jo Butler, made an announcement regarding the slate in January. Some Democrats expected Butler to bow out, but she did not.
Butler, a watchdog on the council who supported consolidation, challenged the council being asked to approve contracts for professionals like the town’s lawyer without the council being given the contracts for review before the first council meeting for the consolidated Princeton. She questioned billing procedures for town legal fees, opposed the process the town used to handle the complaints against former police chief David Dudeck, and expressed concerns about the potential conflict of interest if the mayor negotiated a payment in lieu of taxes with Princeton University when the mayor’s husband works for the university.
In a February 1 email to potential supporters, Nemeth and Miller did not mention Butler by name, but accused her of “searching for cracks in the sidewalk” by pointing out problems and allegedly not offering solutions.
The pair also wrote that they “fought for a United Princeton and delivered millions in tax relief to our town.””We’re willing to put ourselves on the line for you, but we need your help,” the pair wrote. “This is the battle we must win in order to appear on the ballot as Democrats in the Primary Election in June.”In actuality, regardless of what happens at the club endorsement meeting, all three Democrats will appear on the ballot as Democrats in the primary election in June, because it is a Democratic primary. A candidate needs 60 percent of the club vote for the full endorsement.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that the party slogan goes next to the endorsement winners. According to a PCDO leader, the county chair is “ultimately the sole decider of column and use of the official party slogan designation in the primary.”