PRINCETON: Three vying for two Princeton Council seats

Democrat incumbents Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon face Republican challenger Fausta Rodriguez Wertz next week in a contest for two three-year-term seats on the Princeton Council.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
   Democrat incumbents Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon face Republican challenger Fausta Rodriguez Wertz next week in a contest for two three-year-term seats on the Princeton Council.
    Princeton leans heavily Democratic so the odds are long that Ms. Rodriguez Wertz, seeking to become the first ever Latina in municipal government, can knock off either Mr. Simon or Ms. Crumiller on Nov.5.For Mr. Simon and Ms. Crumiller, having to run for office this fall is sort of déjà vu. Both were elected last year but have to run again because they drew one-year-terms when council members randomly selected their terms in January after consolidation.
   In interviews last week, the three candidates explained what they would try to accomplish in the next three years, touched on relations between the town and Princeton University and addressed some of the lingering issues facing a community less than a year into a historic merger.
   ”It’s been a real challenge. That makes it interesting and enjoyable,” said Ms. Crumiller, in likening year one of consolidation to newlyweds learning how to live together.
   ”The challenge has been figuring out how to do things when the borough was used to one way and the township was used to another.”
   ”You can’t realistically expect seven people to always come to the same conclusion on every issue of importance if they’re really working independently to do their best job,” said Mr. Simon.
   Ms. Rodriguez Wertz said the town would benefit by having a government with some diversity, both ethnically and with a different point of view.
   ”I felt that it was time to get involved, and I’m running on local issues,” said Ms. Rodriguez Wertz.
   She lamented the “huge amount of debt” the town is saddled with. Annual debt repayment, she said, comes out to 18 percent of the municipal budget.
   ”So we’re paying for things that were done years ago with money that we’re earning now,” Ms. Rodriguez Wertz said.
   She opposes the town incurring more debt and favors exploring whether any municipal building could be sold.
   ”How many fire stations are not being used? What buildings are not being used now?” she asked.
   Among her goals for the next three years, Ms. Crumiller said she would want to create a new master plan with strong neighborhood protections.
   One of the reasons that Mr. Simon ran for council last year was to make consolidation a success. He feels the merger has been successful, although there have “been bumps along the way.”
   He said the town is realizing financial savings. He pointed to increased services in the Police Department, citing the force’s safe neighborhoods program. The former borough and township police departments, he feels, have meshed well as one unit.
   All three candidates touched on “town-gown” relations with Princeton University.
   ”It should not be an adversary relationship, and it should not be constantly one side giving more than the other,” Ms. Rodriguez Wertz said.
   ”We have a complex relationship with the university,” said Mr. Simon, who attended graduate school at the college. “The arts and transit/Dinky has certainly been a stressor for relations between the town and the university.”
   Yet he cited the contributions the school makes on a committee looking at traffic and transit on Alexander Street and University Place.
   Ms. Crumiller, also a former borough councilwoman, said she hopes she has helped relations with the college during her time in government. She has criticized the college’s decision to relocate the Dinky station, a move that she expects will cause train ridership to fall.
   ”I’ve spoken honestly, and I think in a good relationship, that’s the most important thing to do,” she said. “I think that the Dinky relocation is a travesty. In a town that values public transportation and presumably a university community that values public transportation, the university made a decision to marginalize public transportation.”
   Affordable housing is one of the concerns Ms. Crumiller said she hears from the public.
   ”That’s probably the thing I hear most people say isn’t right with Princeton,” she said, “that it’s too expensive to live here for young families or people who aren’t upper middle class.”
   ”Princeton should be affordable for everybody who’s living here,” said Ms. Rodriguez Wertz, who points to a heavy property tax burden where the average houses pay between $10,000 and $15,000 a year.
   ”There has to be a constant review of how things are spent and what they’re being spent on,” she said.
Municipal government controls about 22 percent of the overall property tax bill. For the governing body, there is only so much to cut.
   ”I think most people in Princeton who are frustrated with the costs, nonetheless, are not satisfied with any sort of cut that would impact them,” Mr. Simon said. “We can do what we can with 22 percent of the pie.”
   Yet Ms. Rodriguez Wertz said council members need to lobby county government and the Princeton Board of Education to hold the line on taxes.
    “Somebody has to start bringing this up,” she said. Traffic is another issue the town is facing. Ms. Crumiller said she sees no “possible” way to “ever” reduce traffic in town, although she said she favors raising gasoline prices to make public transportation more “economically attractive.” Mr. Simon said traffic on Alexander Street is projected to roughly double over the next 15 years, mostly due to development outside of town. “There are tradeoffs that are going to have to be made if we’re going to work through any potential solutions,” he said. Ms. Rodriguez Wertz wondered if anyone has looked into restricting large truck traffic during the period between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Ms. Crumiller, 54, a native of Delaware, has lived in Princeton since 1991. She and her husband, Jon, have two sons and a daughter and one granddaughter. She is a graduate of Rutgers University. Ms. Rodriguez Wertz, 60, is a native of Puerto Rico. She earned a bachelor’s at the University of Georgia and an MBA at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She has lived in Princeton since 1989. She has a son in college. Mr. Simon, 49, is a graduate of Michigan State and Princeton universities. The Michigan native first moved to the area as a student in 1996, moved away and came back in 2001 to the community, where he and his partner, Marc Weiner, reside.