Mark Freda, a Princeton native who has served as a member of the local fire department and first aid squad for more than four decades, will run for mayor as a Democratic candidate in 2020.
The form of government in Princeton is the borough form, and the mayor and six-member council are elected directly. The mayor is elected every four years. Current mayor Liz Lempert is serving her second four-year term and recently declined to say whether she will seek re-election next year.
Freda, 63, served as a councilman in the former borough from 1986 to 1999, and was the director of emergency services for the borough from 2009 to 2011. He is a founding member of the Spirit of Princeton Committee, serves on the board of Dorothea’s House, and was the chair of the consolidation transition task force in 2012 and 2013. He has worked in the corporate real estate and facilities management field for more than 25 years, most recently serving as the global head of facilities and real estate for the Soros Fund Management in New York City. He previously worked for Pfizer as the director of New York City site operations, and as the vice president for corporate services and real estate for Goldman Sachs. A Notre Dame High School graduate, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from the College of New Jersey.
In a lengthy interview with Planet Princeton recently, Freda said it is time for a change at town hall, and that he has a mix of experience and skills that can help the town move forward in several areas and put it on a good path into the future.
“I have significant management experience that is critical in such a role, in addition to my knowledge of the workings of the town,” said Freda, who is no longer commuting to New York City and said he thus has the time now to dedicate to the mayor’s job. “My experience in facilities gives me a lot of knowledge that directly applies to public works, planning, zoning, development, and emergency management,” he said. “I can walk into the role of mayor having significant practical experience and knowledge that will be helpful for moving us forward in the future.”
Freda said the town also has many qualified people on staff whose knowledge needs to be utilized to solve problems and develop strategies, as well as knowledgable volunteers serving on boards and commissions. “We need to make sure that all the elected officials, and members of boards, committees, and commissions understand what their charge is, why they exist, and what they are supposed to do,” he said. Freda said officials need to listen to the citizens who see serve on boards and committees, and those who express their opinions at meetings, balancing that listening with the need to make tough decisions sometimes that may not always be popular.
Asked to list top challenges or priorities for the municipality, Freda said his overarching goal is to work to fulfill more of the promises of consolidation. He said wants to make local government more open and transparent, and also cited property taxes, town and gown relations, community relations, and economic development as top priorities.
“Taxes are always a challenge,” he said. “We need to look at the relationship between the town and the county and make sure we are leveraging the services the county has to offer us. There may be services we aren’t using. We need to have constructive discussions with the county executive and freeholders and make sure we are taking full advantage of services.”
He also said the town’s relationship with the university needs to be strengthened, but not just in terms of asking the university for money. “We need to consider more the university’s impact on the town, and the town’s impact on the university,” he said. “We need to make more of an effort to grow the relationship and make it more productive for all the parties involved.”
Freda also said the town needs to work more closely with the local school board. “Whether it’s the town’s money or the school board’s money or county money, it’s all still the taxpayer’s money, and we need to make sure we are leveraging each other’s resources as effectively as possible where appropriate,” he said.
Economic development in Princeton also needs to be a priority moving forward, Freda said. Relationships with the business community should be strengthened, and Freda said the town should possibly hire an economic development officer or create a similar position to work on boosting business in Princeton. A more vibrant commercial sector could ease some of the tax burden on residents also, he said
“The condition of downtown is unacceptable to me,” Freda said, acknowledging frequent complaints by both residents and visitors that the upkeep of the downtown has slid in recent years after consolidation. “We need to work together with business owners to have a downtown that is more attractive and welcoming to entice more people to visit and spend more time in our town,” he said.
Freda also supports a proposal to hire a full-time communications director for the municipality who would do public relations. He did not say how the town would pay for the communications and economic development positions.
He stressed that as mayor, he would work to listen to citizens’ concerns. He noted that his style is to be direct with people. “People ask me questions, and they get an honest answer,” he said. “Also, I realize I’m not an expert on everything and I don’t have all the answers. I’m happy to listen to people and learn things from others.”
Freda has discussed his bid for mayor with dozens of people in town over the last several weeks. “I’ve met with local residents and business leaders to gather feedback on issues impacting the future of Princeton,” he said. “I look forward to continuing these important conversations.”