Meet the Candidates: Liz Lempert

Over the past month, The Sun has questioned candidates about local issues leading up to their contested election. Here is the full four weeks, including this week’s issue – a final pitch as to why they should be elected Nov. 8.

MEET CANDIDATE LIZ LEMPERT
WEEK 1

Name: Liz Lempert

Age: 47

Occupation: Mayor

Political Affiliation: Democrat

Clubs/Organizations you belong to: New Jersey League of Municipalities Executive Board, Princeton Public Library Board of Trustees, Princeton University Art Museum Community Leadership Council, NEWDeal Leaders, Princeton Community Democratic Organization and Meals on Wheels of Mercer County.

Why are you running for mayor? During my first term as mayor I’ve worked together with the Council, municipal staff, our volunteer boards, and residents to fulfill the promise of consolidation. We have saved money, enhanced services, and increased our efficiency and effectiveness as a government. There is still much more to do. We can build on our recent successes to make Princeton a more connected, sustainable and affordable community, with a government that is fiscally responsible, progressive and innovative.

If elected, what would be your top priority? My top priority is keeping costs down while providing excellent services. Most immediately, I plan to focus on seeing through the planning projects currently underway, including the Neighborhood Character and Zoning Initiative, a community planning effort created in response to concerns among residents about the impacts of teardowns and development activities occurring throughout town.

WEEK 2

What do you think is the most pressing issue in Princeton at present and how will you attempt to remedy it as mayor?

One of the most pressing issues is the spate of teardowns and out-of-scale, out-of-place new construction occurring throughout town. The municipality has already begun to address the issue by retaining a consultant to work with the Planning Board on analyzing the trend, its economic impact and methods that have been tried in other communities facing similar circumstances. The Neighborhood Character and Zoning Initiative will depend on robust public engagement and citizen input. Interested residents can review the kick off presentation and send in comments online via the website:www.princetonneighborhoods.org.

What is your plan to keep taxes at an affordable rate for residents?

I’ve worked together with Council, staff and our volunteer Citizens Finance Advisory Committee to put together a sound budget each year. Whenever there is a vacancy, we evaluate the potential for right-sizing or restructuring. There are other opportunities for savings. We saved almost $150,000 on legal fees by bidding out Council’s legal services three years ago. This year the Planning and Zoning boards will also be bidding out their contracts. I support putting all of our major professional services agreements out for bid on a routine basis. I also favor sharing additional services, particularly with the library and school district. We already share a network manager, and I support finding more opportunities to collaborate.  The creation of Access Princeton, a one stop call center, is an example of our ongoing search for ways to become more efficient and to improve municipal services.

Outside of property taxes, our main sources of revenue come from user fees, state aid, grants, and payments from Princeton University and other tax-exempt institutions. We have a strong track record in obtaining grants, especially at a time when the process has become more rigorous and competitive. We must continue to proactively seek out and pursue these opportunities. I’ve been working together with Councilmen Miller and Simon on exploring opportunities for economic development, especially focused on filling vacant commercial spaces, in order to increase ratables. I support tightening our residential zoning to remove non-profit institutions as a conditional use in order to prevent further loss of properties from the tax rolls. We must also encourage and provide appropriate recognition for private fundraising efforts within our community. Of note: our public library’s 2Reimage second floor renovation project is being financed by private donations, not additional tax dollars.

The Citizens Finance Advisory Committee has assisted Council in creating policies to stabilize our fund balance and our capital spending and debt. As a sign of our fiscal discipline, our level of outstanding has shrunk by $15 million over the past four years, and Princeton has seen the lowest tax rate increase of any of its neighbors since 2010.

WEEK 3

What are some innovative ideas you will bring to the table as Princeton mayor and how will these ideas benefit the community?

As mayor, I’ve worked to incorporate technology into government operations to help us be more efficient and effective at delivering services to residents. One example is Access Princeton, the one-stop call center and mobile app, which makes it easier for residents to connect with town services. To make our local government more accountable and transparent, we began posting full agenda packets online, in advance of Council meetings, as well as recorded videos of Planning and Zoning Board meetings.

To engage more young people in civic life, we established a Youth Advisory Committee, and held our first municipal hackathon, where computer programmers and designers — most new to the political process – devised creative solutions to municipal challenges. We are currently partnering with Princeton University to engage students in municipal projects. A team of students is currently applying the latest in “design thinking” theory to revamp our affordable housing application process to make it more user friendly.
Improving the quality of daily life within our community by addressing transportation and environmental and social sustainability has been another top priority.  To make streets safe and usable for everyone, from motorists to bicyclists, pedestrians and those with disabilities, Princeton adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2012. To that end, the town is creating a comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan thanks to funding from the NJ Department of Transportation. We also received a grant to fund a joint bike share program with the University. The municipal portion will launch this spring.
Last year Sustainable Jersey awarded the town Silver Certification, and work began on developing a solar farm on top of the old landfill. We are currently partnering with the library to explore the feasibility of installing solar on the deck of the Spring Street Garage. We also worked together with the Arts Council to build Princeton’s first “parklet” by temporarily converting two parking spots on Witherspoon Street into a welcoming public space.

I will continue to work with municipal staff, my colleagues on Council, and members of the community to bring innovative ideas to government operations and services.

How will you work to balance the small town characteristics Princeton residents love while accommodating the demand of a growing population?

Managing this balance of growth and preservation infuses nearly every policy discussion that Council has. Together with the Planning Board, we launched the Neighborhood Character and Zoning Initiative to address the growing teardown trend and examine zoning and building regulations and determine how they might be modified to protect neighborhood character. Council recently passed a more stringent shade tree ordinance to better protect our invaluable tree canopy.
The municipality continues to invest in infrastructure that enhances walkability and makes our streets safer for bicyclists. The municipality now pays the full cost of new sidewalk construction in recognition of their importance to the entire community. In addition, a comprehensive bicycle route plan is nearing completion.

WEEK 4

Make your final pitch. Why should you be elected for Princeton Mayor?

I ran for mayor four years ago, and am running for re-election now because I believe that municipal government has an important role to play in shaping our community, and in planning for the kind of future we want to build together.

I believe as a government we are obligated to do more with less. With consolidation, we operate more efficiently and cost-effectively than before. We need to continue to look for efficiencies so we can keep costs down while providing the excellent services our residents expect.

I also believe government has a responsibility to lift all boats, and to think not just for ourselves, but also for future generations. That means doing our fair share when it comes to affordable housing, recognizing the historic importance of our older neighborhoods, and creating a welcoming community for all.

We must also work towards sustainability – by being good stewards of our open space; creating a safe transportation network for those who either can’t or don’t drive; and protecting the character and scale of our neighborhoods and the vibrancy of our downtown.

I approach all of these challenges with an attitude of optimism that we as a community can pull together the smartest, most creative minds to preserve what is exemplary about our town, while forging a future for Princeton that is more sustainable, inclusive and humane.

Princeton is a unique community but many of the challenges we face are not particularly unique to Princeton and are things that other communities are grappling with as well. Princeton has the advantage of having incredible talent and a tradition of volunteerism and engagement. I believe working together we can be strategic, thoughtful, and even transformative in approaching these challenges together.

If you have concerns or suggestions, you can reach me through my website, lizlempert.com, or come to my Meet the Mayor office hours at the public library. I’ll be holding my next session Oct. 28 from 8:30 to 10 a.m.

Thank you for electing me four years ago. I hope to continue the work we started. This is an important election from the Presidential race on down, and I ask for your vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

 

 

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida