Koontz gets backing of Princeton Democratic organization

New councilman only one of four candidates to win support for primary.

By: Jennifer Potash
   Foreshadowing a competitive and possibly contentious Democratic primary in Princeton Borough, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization has endorsed only one of the four candidates seeking election.
   The PCDO members voted Sunday to endorse Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz, who was appointed to the governing body in January, but did not endorse Councilman Roger Martindell by a very narrow margin or challengers Mark Freda and Anne Waldron Neumann.
   The organization also voted to endorse Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand and Lance Liverman, who are running unopposed in the Democratic primary for the Princeton Township Committee.
   To earn the group’s endorsement, candidates must secure both 60 percent of the overall vote and 50 percent of the vote from voters within their municipality, said Scott Carver, president of the PCDO, whose membership comprises Princeton Borough and Princeton Township Democrats.
   More than 130 people turned out at the Suzanne Patterson Senior Center for the endorsement session, which included statements from the candidates and a question-and-answer session.
   Mr. Koontz led with 81 votes. Mr. Martindell followed with 71 votes, Mr. Freda tallied 50 votes and Ms. Neumann 13. With 120 ballots cast, at least 72 votes were necessary to meet the overall requirement.
   The nod of encouragement from the PCDO is an asset, said Mr. Koontz, who plans to run a grassroots-style campaign.
   "From my point of view as the former club president, to not have their endorsement would have been quite a blow," he said. "It is the heart and soul of the Democratic Party in Princeton."
   Mr. Martindell, who is seeking his fifth term, found more positives in the results. While he failed to capture the needed overall 60 percent of the vote, he scored 67 percent from borough attendees.
   "That’s important because I’m running in the borough and not the township," he said.
   Mr. Freda, a council member from 1986 to 1999, said while it would have been nice to have the endorsement, he was not surprised with the results.
   "What the PCDO does is endorse whoever is sitting on the council," he said.
   While saddened for herself and for Mr. Martindell for not receiving endorsements, Ms. Neumann pledged to stay in the race.
   "I assure you outside the PDCO my message is going to resonate," said Ms. Neumann of her campaign, which will focus on responsible spending choices addressing affordable housing and affordable retail opportunities.
   The evening was not without controversy.
   Before the voting began, Mr. Freda proposed the PCDO vote, no matter how it turned out, be conveyed to the county Democratic organization but not as an official endorsement, so all the candidates could be listed in the same column on the primary ballot.
   Typically the endorsed candidates run with the PCDO slogan in one column while other Democratic candidates are listed in a separate column. The county Democratic chairman under state law has the final say of how candidates are placed on the ballot.
   A spirited discussion ensued, with some arguing the proposal should have been raised earlier. Mercer County Democratic Chairman Rich McClellan, who was at the PCDO meeting, said he would consider the issue.
   Several audience questions dealt with the increasing municipal budgets.
   Ms. Neumann offered suggestions about merging the borough and township police departments to save money.
   Mayor Marchand said past consolidation studies showed little financial advantage for merging just the departments and not the two municipalities. Mr. Liverman said he wanted to review the facts and figures first but the idea could be studied again. Mr. Koontz also said he would like to review the costs and savings.
   A first step might be to merge the emergency dispatch services for both communities, said Mr. Martindell. Mr. Freda agreed.
   Candidates seeking election under the Republican or Democratic banners must file petitions with municipal clerks by 4 p.m., April 12.