Mayor looks back on 1st year on job

Mayor Frank Gambatese feels confident in his abilities as mayor after his first year on the job.

By: Sharlee Joy DiMinichi
   The first year on the job contained some shocks for Mayor Frank Gambatese, but he said he ended 2003 with confidence in his abilities as mayor.
   "I end the year with people believing, ‘you know what, Mayor Gambatese, he can do the job,’ " Mayor Gambatese said.
   Mayor Gambatese said he takes pride in having worked to acquire open space for the township and having opened dialogue with other officials in the region.
   He said the departure of Township Manager Barbara Sacks was one of the most worrisome periods of his administration because he thought the township might remain without a manager for several months while council members sought a replacement. However, the mayor said, the return of former Township Manager Matt Watkins was an excellent solution to the leadership vacuum.
   "One of the biggest surprises was that our manager left and the other surprise was that our other manager came back," Mayor Gambatese said.
   Mayor Gambatese said he initiated dialogue with Mayor Peter Cantu of Plainsboro and officials of Princeton Forrestal, the development arm of Princeton University, to preserve 214 acres of open space adjacent to Kingston.
   According to a developer’s agreement between the township and Princeton Forrestal, 214 acres owned by Princeton Forrestal would be preserved as open space. In exchange for the land, in April the township rezoned a 78-acre tract from residential to office corporate, allowing construction of a five-story building.
   Mayor Gambatese said discussions on the open space deal required him to negotiate in spite of the historically divisive issue of Route 92. Township officials oppose construction of the proposed 6.7-mile, limited-access roadway which would link Route 1 near Ridge Road with the N.J. Turnpike at Exit 8A. The proposed roadway would cut through the northern tip of Plainsboro and run east to west through much of South Brunswick along Friendship Road. Princeton Forrestal officials favor the road.
   "We said, ‘Look, we will never agree on Route 92. Let’s put that on the side and see what we can do,’" Mr. Gambatese said.
   Similarly, Mayor Gambatese said that he wanted to keep lines of communication open with Mayor Peter Cantu of Plainsboro because the agreement between South Brunswick and Princeton Forrestal could result in the developers building on land in the township rather than on adjacent land they own in Plainsboro.
   "That’s a loss of a ratable to them and the gain of a ratable to us," Mayor Gambatese said.
   Mayor Gambatese said he and Mayor Cantu have collaborated in trying to draw attention to traffic congestion on Route 1 and to call for it to be widened.
   "We’ve talked about our common interests and not our differences," Mayor Gambatese said.
   Mayor Cantu said Wednesday that he appreciated Mayor Gambatese’s willingness to initiate discussions on issues of common concern. Mayor Cantu said the agreement between South Brunswick and Princeton Forrestal did not cause any tension between Plainsboro and the township and that the talks on widening Route 1 were productive.
   Mayor Gambatese also said he is proud that he had gained the trust of township business owners so they feel comfortable calling him with problems.
   "Working with the different businesses has been a real pleasure," Mayor Gambatese said.
   Mayor Gambatese said he was disappointed that work was still needed on some township projects slated to be finished in 2003, such as jughandles at the intersection of Routes 1 and 522 and the sensory garden near Veterans Park.
   Mayor Gambatese said he would like all pending township projects to come to fruition in 2004.
   "I’m going to call this the year of completion," Mayor Gambatese said.