Seeking the best as mayor

Hsueh devotes himself to his adopted community

By: Nick Norlen
   WEST WINDSOR — When West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh says he wants his community to be the best in the world, he’s serious.
   A retired bureau chief for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and a former adjunct professor at Rutgers University, Mayor Hsueh was born in 1944 and came from Taiwan to the United States in 1969.
   He moved to West Windsor in 1985 looking to serve the community.
   "I believe I learned a lot and feel I have a lot to contribute to this community," he said. "West Windsor should be one of the best in the whole country, if not in the whole world," he said. "I thought that I probably would be able to help in that capacity."
   Since moving to the township, he has been a member of the township’s Board of Health, Environmental Commission, and served eight years on Township Council — including four as president.
   On May 14, the state Senate confirmed his appointment to the state Planning Board.
   But one aspect of his life has remained constant in recent years: his service as mayor since being first elected in 2001.
   "I never expected to win," he said.
   As mayor, he is charged with supervising municipal departments, appointing and removing department heads, overseeing the budget process, and negotiating contracts, among other things.
   He said there is "no question" that it’s easier to get things done as mayor than as a member of the Township Council.
   "I thought if I wasn’t mayor I would never be able to do what I thought I wanted to do," he said.
   But he also said he never expected some of the things he now has to do.
   After taking early retirement, Mayor Hsueh said he began to treat the mayoral position as a full-time job.
   He estimates he works 70 hours a week.
   "Actually, I’m here Saturdays most of the time. I’m here at nighttime and basically even at home I have to respond to phone calls," he said.
   For that reason, the husband and father of two said he has to set aside at least some time for himself.
   "Every day I always set a period of time to do exercise — to keep myself mentally, physically healthy. The only problem is sometimes I have to sacrifice family life," he said. "Basically my wife has to sacrifice a lot. I know that sometimes it’s hard for me to explain (when she asks), ‘What did you get out of this?’"
   But Mayor Hsueh said he has a specific way of staying motivated.
   "In 1995, when I was running for my council re-elections, there was a letter printed in all of the local newspapers. Some residents in West Windsor accused me of coming to this country taking advantage of everything in this country," he said. "I adopted this country because of my appreciation of the system and my appreciation of the whole community. I feel I’m obligated to do more. I always remember that letter."
   Now in his second term, Mayor Hsueh has started several task forces as well as a new tradition of holding town hall meetings.
   But despite his efforts to reach out to the community, Mayor Hsueh said misconceptions about him still exist — in particular, that he is a "politician."
   With master’s degrees and a doctorate in chemical and environmental engineering from Rutgers University, he said he sees himself as a professional.
   "People thought for me, as a politician, if they do X I will respond with Y. Well, sometimes they’re probably disappointed," he said. "If it’s a good idea, I will do it. If it’s not a good idea, don’t expect me to do it."
   Mayor Hsueh said he tries to seek multiple opinions to make the right decisions.
   "I come up with my own ideas, but I expect people to correct me or give me more information so I will make adjustments," he said. "But once I make up my mind, that’s it. I will stick to it and I will move that to the end."
   That approach has made him unpopular with some residents.
   Princeton Junction Neighborhoods’ Coalition member Farrell Delman said he has known Mayor Hsueh for 20 years.
   He even ran his mayoral campaign in 2000.
   But since then, he said the mayor has developed a tendency to "dominate the floor" — an opinion he said is shared by others that were close to him before growing apart.
   "The unfortunate thing for Shing is he used to be a good listener when he was on council. Now he doesn’t stop talking," he said. "I’m very concerned with his relationship to power."
   But others offer a different take of the mayor.
   West Windsor Parking Authority Chairman Andy Lupo, who is also President of the West Windsor Little League, said the mayor seeks the opinions of a diverse group of individuals when making decisions.
   "I think the mayor has reached out to a number of individuals to encourage their involvement," he said. "I think he’s trying to do everything he can to improve the quality of life for West Windsor residents. I think he’s trying to work closer with council members to insure that people on council have the appropriate information to make decisions to impact the town."
   While he acknowledges that he has his share of supporters and critics, Mayor Hsueh said he does not consider himself a polarizing character.
   "You’re not going to be able to please everybody," he said. "You just want to make sure you try to please as many people as possible."
   So just what does Mayor Hsueh want his legacy to be?
   "I really don’t expect people will remember who was the mayor before, or who did this or who did that," he said. "I’m not going to be mayor forever. I want to be able to retire as soon as possible — the real retirement. Once I feel this town is moving in the right direction, I think I will be very comfortable to really retire from the mayor’s position."