West Windsor has had its fair share of important political leaders over the years, but few have impacted the community as much as Rae Roeder.
A self-proclaimed “watchdog” for the community, Roeder was a driving force for the change to the mayor-council form of government in the early 1990s.
Roeder, who died on Dec. 29 at the age of 73, was a long-time member of township council who served as president and vice president of the body.
A township native, Roeder became active in township politics in the late 1980s as the community struggled with unbridled residential growth that was strangling roads and overloading the school system. She was a leader in the movement to stem the deluge of residential units that were flooding the community during those years.
Roeder grew up in the Penns Neck area of the township, where she lived for most of her life. She fought tenaciously for years in favor of the construction of the Penns Neck bypass—a road that would have routed Route 571 away from the heart of Penns Neck and off Washington Road. That project was ultimately killed by the state due to environmental issues.
Roeder earned a bachelor’s degree in history and education from Rider University (then Rider College) and a master’s degree in education at East Tennessee State University, where she served as a charter member of the National Teacher Corps, newly established by then-President Lyndon Johnson.
She subsequently taught at Woodford County Junior High School in Versailles, Kentucky, the Vail-Deane School in Elizabeth and Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset.
In the 1980s, she began her work on behalf of state workers of New Jersey. She started in the Office of Equal Education Opportunity and continued in the Office of Facilities Planning in the state Department of Education.
She became more involved at home, too. Noting that there was no Democratic committeewoman representing her district in town, she persuaded her mother, Ann, and her husband, John, to join her writing in her name on the ballot. She was elected and then continued to serve as her district Democratic committeewoman for over two decades, rising to become the chair of the West Windsor Democratic Committee.
Starting in the late 1980s, Roeder helped to lead the fight against Countryside at Princeton—a court-mandated affordable housing development on Bear Brook Road of more than 1,000 units. That property was eventually developed by Toll Brothers after years of litigation as the Estates at Princeton Junction. Efforts by Roeder and others helped delay the development for almost a decade.
In 1991, Roeder joined with other members of the community to fight a proposed ordinance that rezoned the Nassau Park property to allow for construction of the shopping center there. She organized a group of residents who argued that the project would add too much traffic to local roads and stress township services.
After the township committee voted to approve the ordinance, Roeder came to believe that the township would be better off with a non-partisan form of government.
She helped conduct a petition and obtained enough signatures to start the process for a change to a non-partisan mayor-council government, which was eventually approved by voters. An election was held in 1993 for mayor and five members of council.
In that election, Roeder organized a full slate of candidates and became one of the township’s first elected councilwomen, an office she held through 2003. In that election, four of five council candidates and Mayor Thomas Frascella, who were all on her slate, were elected.
While on council, Roeder was a supporter of a growth management ordinance, which attempted to phase residential and commercial development by tying it to the construction of roads in town. The ordinance was passed, but was ultimately struck down by the courts. As a member of council she then voted to downzone a number of developable properties throughout town.
She was also an ardent supporter of West Windsor’s veterans and felt they should be honored for their service to the country.
She persuaded the council to establish the first Veterans Day ceremony in 1995 and the first Memorial Day parade in 1996. She also helped organize and lead the parade for many years. In 2010, she was honored by the township for her years organizing the parade.
Her involvement in township issues waned a bit after 1996, when she was elected president of state workers’ union, Communication Workers of America Local 1033, and that role took up an increasing amount of her time. She served as president of the union for five terms, until her retirement in 2012.
During his speech after being sworn in on New Year’s Day, Mayor Hemant Marathe paid tribute to Roeder.
“Rae saw herself as the advocate of the common man in that she always seemed willing to extend herself on behalf of others regardless of the politics.”
“Rae was a powerful and independent force on council, and an inspiration to all of us,” councilwoman Alison Miller said in an e-mail to The News. Miller was also elected to the 1993 council along with Roeder.
“Rae is the reason I got involved in West Windsor politics. She cared passionately about West Windsor and about the plight of disadvantaged people everywhere.”