PRINCETON: Mysterious and critical, emails rankle officials

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Bears were beating the Jets and the Princeton Council meeting was going late on Monday, Sept.22, 2014, when Mayor Liz Lempert received an anonymous message to her municipal email account around 11:02 p.m.
“Liz—you are nothing but a publicity whore, whose mommy was a mayor and so you are, too,” read the email from someone at “sloanhouse@yahoo.com” that Mayor Lempert later claimed allegedly came from an IP address matching that of an IP address of emails sent by Councilman Patrick Simon. He has denied any involvement by him or his spouse, Marc D. Weiner.
This month, The Princeton Packet filed a government records request with the municipal clerk’s office to obtain that and other emails surrounding an incident that officials want to avoid discussing. Records obtained revealed how officials sought to go internally through county and local Democrat Party channels to address the issue, but officials were unable to explain why municipal staff was not involved in getting to the bottom of the matter.
Officials mainly used personal emails to correspond with each other, and even scheduled a private meeting at Mayor Lempert’s house on a weekend. In the end, though, it may never be known who wrote anonymously to Mayor Lempert or to Councilwoman Heather H. Howard that same night last September using the same Yahoo email address.
The town never investigated, and, when Mr. Simon suggested the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office get involved, the matter ended. There have been no more anonymous emails to either woman since the original messages nearly a year ago.
Mr. Simon could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts by phone and email. For their parts, Mayor Lempert and Ms. Howard said they preferred to look forward rather than backward.
“Please stop,” the email to Mayor Lempert said. “Stop your mobilization of your PTO friends. Stop trying to be important. You’re simply not credentialed. You are not a good mayor. You do not understand real politics. You are weak of voice, and it’s laughable how your voice cracks on Channel 44.”
As it turned out, whoever was behind sloanhouse@yahoo.com was just getting started.
Later that evening, with the council meeting still going on, Ms. Howard received an anonymous email.
“I have testimony from enough people you told that you would not run for re-election if Jo Butler were re-elected,” the message read in part. “Either you don’t run or I go public with this information. If you make a threat, you have to be prepared to keep it. If you don’t, you’re nothing but an amateur hack. Do you want to be exposed as an amateur hack?”
“Of course, it was upsetting to receive threatening or misogynistic emails,” Ms. Howard said Tuesday.
Five days after she got the email, on Sept. 27, Mayor Lempert wrote to Mr. Simon telling him that “something has come up that we would like to talk to you about.”
“It is important we talk to you sooner rather than later,” she wrote.
In a text message to him, she claimed that the anonymous emails she and Ms. Howard had received “came from an IP address that matches the IP address of many emails coming from you.”
On Aug. 20 Mayor Lempert said she would respond to the paper’s request for that information through the official channel of the government records request. 
In her correspondence with Mr. Simon, the mayor indicated Mercer County Democratic Chairwoman and now Assemblywoman Liz Muoio and local Democrats Walter Bliss, Dan Preston and Jon Durbin, head of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, had been contacted. A meeting was set for 9 a.m. Sept.28 at Mayor Lempert’s home on Meadowbrook Drive.
In an email back, Mr. Simon said neither he nor Mr. Weiner knew anything about the anonymous emails but indicated he would be willing to attend the meeting — until he changed his mind after having discussed the matter with what he called his “public interest attorney.”
Around 11:17 p.m. Sept. 27, he wrote to Mayor Lempert and copied Ms. Howard and the other Democrats.
“If there is criminal content in the emails, please refer them to the Mercer County Prosecutor, or if they in fact tie to an IP address associated with my home, please send them to me and I will do so, since in that case the emails constitute an attempt to impersonate me or a member of my household, and I will pursue the matter.”
He ended the message by writing that “any further investigation into this matter, will, at my insistence, involve the prosecutor.”
Yet those were not Mr. Simon’s last words. In a Sept.28 email to both women and copied to Ms. Muoio and the other Democrats, he wrote that he found the sentiments of the anonymous emails “utterly repugnant.”
“As I have already communicated, I had no knowledge of those emails in advance of you calling them to my attention, and Marc has assured me that he had nothing to do with them,” Mr. Simon wrote. “I have no explanation as to who sent them, their motive or the reported IP routing.”
The issue appeared to end there. “As far as I’m aware everyone has moved on,” Ms. Muoio said Wednesday by email.
Municipal attorney Trishka W. Cecil said Tuesday that there was no internal review of the matter and that her law firm had no involvement.
“We did not get municipal staff involved,” Ms. Howard said Tuesday.
For her part, Mayor Lempert deflected questions Tuesday about the incident.
“I’m focused on getting the work done that we’re all elected to do,” she said. “I’m choosing to spend my time and energy on improving the quality of life of our residents and delivering quality services at a reasonable cost.”
Mr. Simon was elected to council in 2012 and re-elected in 2013. He is seen as part of a group of Democrats aligned with Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller and her husband, Jon, that has been at odds, politically, with Mayor Lempert and Ms. Howard. In the contentious 2014 council primary, Mr. Simon backed Ms. Butler while Mayor Lempert and Ms. Howard backed her opponents. 
This article was updated on Aug. 24, 2015.