The mayor’s office and two seats on Princeton council appear on the ballot during this year’s delayed primary election.
The primary will take place mostly via mail-in ballot. June 16 was the last day to register to vote before the primary. All registered voters will receive either a ballot or instructions on how to declare a party in order to receive a ballot—in New Jersey, only registered Democrats and Republicans may vote in their respective party’s primary.
The Mercer County Clerk’s Office began mailing ballots to voters this week. All completed ballots must be postmarked July 7 or sooner in order to be counted.
There are no Republican candidates for municipal office in Princeton, meaning the winners of the Democratic primary most likely will have an obstacle-free path to office come November’s general election.
This is especially true for Mark Freda, who is also running unopposed in the mayoral primary. Freda—barring an unforeseen circumstance—will receive a four-year term as mayor, and replace Liz Lempert once her term expires at the end of 2020. Lempert has served as mayor of consolidated Princeton since 2012; she is the first person to hold that office.
Freda served on Princeton Borough council from 1986 until 1999, and was Princeton’s first Director of Emergency Services. He is an active member of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, having served on its executive board in 2018 and 2019. A lifelong Princeton resident, Freda is a 40-year veteran of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and of the Princeton Fire Department. He is the current president of PFARS, and previously served as fire chief.
There’s slightly more competition in the council race, where there are three candidates for two three-year terms. The candidates are David Cohen, Leticia Fraga and Dina Shaw.
Both Cohen and Fraga are in their first terms on council. The Princeton Community Democratic Organization endorsed the incumbents in March. This is Shaw’s first run for political office.
David Cohen currently serves as Princeton council president. Cohen received his bachelor’s in social studies from Harvard College and a master’s in architecture from the University of Virginia. Cohen worked for local firms prior to starting his own architecture practice in 2002. He has volunteered in the community, serving on the board of his synagogue and of an area non-profit, Homesharing, in Somerset County, as well as working with the Eastern Service Workers Association in Trenton. Cohen’s wife of 38 years, Liz, is a community leader. They have three grown children.
Leticia Fraga is the first Latinx person ever to hold elected office in Princeton. She currently serves as police commissioner, and is council liaison to the Civil Rights Commission, the Human Services Commission, the Youth Advisory Committee, and the Board of Health. Born in Mexicali, Mexico, Fraga immigrated to the United States at age 12. She is the former chair of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a former member of the board of the Princeton YWCA, Princeton Community Housing, and the Princeton ‘Send Hunger Packing’ Initiative.
Dina Shaw has lived in Princeton for 17 years. Shaw ran two businesses, including one she built with her husband—a packaging technology company that was sold to a multinational company. She was president or co-president of two PTOs: Littlebrook and JW Middle School. She serves on Princeton Council’s Economic Development Committee, Friends of the Princeton Public Library, Mercer County Moms Demand Action, The Jewish Center and the Princeton Community Democratic Organization.
The Princeton Echo asked the candidates, “What is the most pressing issue facing Princeton? How would you solve it?” They were allowed one week to write a response, with a limit of 300 words. Their statements follow:
I think the most pressing issue facing Princeton in this election is managing growth. The State Court’s timetable for implementing our Affordable Housing obligation mandates rapid growth. As a member of Council’s negotiating team, I am proud of the job we did finding the sweet spot balancing taxpayer expense, creation of new affordable and middle-class housing options, and impact on our schools. Now we need to oversee the resulting growth in just five short years.
Over 700 new housing units, both affordable and market-rate will be built in this time frame. All the while, Princeton University and our other major institutions in town continue to thrive and grow, and the changing nature of commercial activity shifting to online retail and tele-commuting puts pressure on our tax base and will change the face of our business districts. This pace of change will challenge our planning capacity. It will impact all aspects of municipal government—our efforts to reduce and prepare for climate change, our transportation system and infrastructure, our ability to ensure equity for all our residents, and our budget.
The uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and how life will change as we come out of this difficult period creates even greater need for experienced hands on deck managing the transition. We need representatives on the governing body who understand the complexities of all these issues, who have a handle on how we got where we are today and how to get to where we want to be. Smart Growth can help us build a thriving local economy, embrace a sustainable future, and preserve the socio-economic, racial, and generational diversity that have been a hallmark of Princeton in the past. I ask for your vote so I can continue to help guide that process.
When I first ran for council, I saw affordability, inclusiveness, and quality of life as issues that I wanted to focus on if elected. During my two and a half years on council, I have worked on moving forward initiatives to address those issues.
Our current health and economic crisis highlights urgent needs that we must focus on in the coming years. The pandemic has also highlighted for many of us just how woefully underfunded our Health and Human Services Departments are. I want to work on strengthening and expanding the services we offer that help meet the most basic needs and improve quality of life for all who call Princeton home—this should include expanding the preventative health services now provided through our Health Department’s Well Baby Clinic to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all uninsured or underinsured members of our community.
In addition to the financial hardship that many of our residents are experiencing, our business community is also being hit hard. As a member of Princeton’s Economic Development Committee, I have worked with other members on strategies, policies, and improvements for a more vibrant business district.
Post-pandemic, I started working with colleagues and community partners on strategies to ensure that both our residents and business community can recover from the pandemic’s economic devastation.
The tragic events of the last few weeks have once again shined a spotlight on centuries of abuse and mistrust nationwide. As the liaison to Public Safety and designated Police Commissioner for Princeton, I have worked closely with our Chief of Police and other members of our Public Safety Committee to ensure we are continuously fostering a culture of trust and respect. If re-elected, I will continue to work on seeking community-driven solutions that uphold our shared values, with a focus on equity, affordability, prosperity and inclusion.
The most important issue facing Princeton will be the rebuilding the economic vitality of our town after the pandemic. Our merchants were struggling prior to the pandemic, and now, after being closed for months, our local businesses need help to survive.
We can begin by creating an economic development plan that includes all businesses throughout Princeton. This would include creating an economic development office within the municipal government. Main Street USA has a base plan for this type of function and we could use their model as a roadmap. This office would highlight the great parts of our town in a coordinated effort to advocate, market and grow all small businesses while at the same time promoting Princeton to attract new businesses. This would be done with a dynamic board of community leaders, small businesses and landlords to create a long term plan for Princeton. This new entity would organize events, arrange support for website development, navigate the process of opening a business, and have a goal of having a 50/50 partnership with the municipality.
Rebuilding our economic base will provide much needed jobs. Taken in conjunction with the new affordable housing coming to Princeton within the next five years, a plan of how our community will live and expand in these new economic times will be critical. This effort should also include a commitment to establish free WiFi throughout our community as our businesses have pivoted to more online options so that they can serve their customers more easily. All students will also benefit by town-wide WiFi by being able to access online school.
The top issue to me is communication. It is a common theme in so many of the one-on-one discussions and the group calls I have had with Princeton residents these last few months.
There are many important issues. Discrimination, racism, the challenges facing many of Princeton’s immigrant residents, affordable housing, housing for working class residents/families, transportation safety and overall planning (buses/ bicycles/cars/walking), economic development, the town’s relationships with Princeton University/Mercer County/the School Board, sustainability, our climate action plan, COVID-19’s continuing impacts, our municipal budget, taxes.
Each of these issues would take many more than 300 words to address individually. But again, a common underlying theme in my discussions on all these topics comes back to communication. How do we communicate, do we encourage enough diverse perspectives on most topics, are we willing to have difficult conversations in public, do our residents feel welcome to express their thoughts with elected officials, do we provide direct answers to questions, do we follow-up as promised when we need to research a question.
As mayor I will welcome respectful, open and honest dialogue. We will not all agree on every issue, and that is OK. But we all need to hear each other’s perspectives. I will listen to your information or suggestions offered on our different issues. I will give direct answers to questions. I will share what I know and find out what I don’t. I will embrace public discussion; but I will also push for decisions. And I will push for implementation of those decisions in a timely manner.