By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said Thursday that she would run for re-election next year, the first candidate to declare for a race in which the Democrat will enter as the heavy favorite.
“I love Princeton, I love this community,” she said by phone in an informal announcement.
She said being mayor is an “intense job” but one that she found “rewarding.” She said she was proud of what the town has accomplished, yet believes there is “a lot on our plate” in terms of increasing the “efficiency” and “effectiveness” of local government, working on environmental issues and making the town an affordable place to live in.
“We can do even more to foster innovation,” she said.
Mayor Lempert said she had spent the past year thinking about whether to run or not, a careful deliberation that one friend said Thursday is not surprising.
“She’s thoughtful about her decision-making,” said former Township Committeewoman and friend Sue Nemeth by phone.
Aside from having the benefit of incumbency, Mayor Lempert will run in a presidential election year in which voter turnout in the staunch Democratic town figures to be heavy. In municipal races, Democrats win big against their Republican opponents, so Mayor Lempert would have smooth sailing assuming she wins the Democratic primary.
The general election is a year away, but in Princeton, the political calendar is inverted, so that some critical decisions will get made by the end of March. That’s when Democrats endorse candidates for office and decide who will get the party line in the primary.
In terms of a possible opponent from within her party, it was not immediately clear who might emerge to challenge her. “No one else has indicated they’re interested in running,” said Peter M. Wolanin, chairman of the Princeton Democratic Municipal Committee.
Mayor Lempert is seen as part of one faction of Princeton Democrats pitted against another faction aligned with Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller and her husband, Jon. In 2014, the mayor supported candidates against Councilwoman Jo S. Butler, the Crumiller-backed candidate who bested Ms. Nemeth.
The race last year was viewed as a test of Mayor Lempert’s political capital. But Princeton Councilwoman Heather H. Howard, a close political ally, said Thursday that Mayor Lempert has been “a great mayor” and enjoys “a lot of support in the community.”
For her part, Ms. Butler had no comment Thursday about Mayor Lempert’s announcement. Asked if she was going to run for mayor, Ms. Butler replied that she is “not going to talk about this.”
Now ending her third year in office, Mayor Lempert has sought to go beyond being just a mayor who cuts ribbons at grand openings or wields a shovel at groundbreakings. She has traveled to the White House on official business and sought to introduce larger, national issues into the local discourse. As an unabashed liberal, she has weighed in against gun violence, supported mandatory paid sick leave for employees and joined other mayors in the fight for gay marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court.
More locally, she advocated for merging the two Princetons. Andrea Spalla, a friend of Mayor Lempert’s and president of the Princeton school board, said Thursday that “a lot more work” needs to be done before the promise of consolidation is fulfilled. Speaking for herself and not the school board, she said it made sense to have “continuity” in leadership to make that happen.
Mayor Lempert, 46, is originally from San Mateo, California, part of a political family that saw her mother, Sue, and one of her older brothers, Ted, hold local or state elected office.
She cut her teeth politically in New Jersey by working on the presidential campaign of Barack Obama starting in 2007. In 2008, she was chosen to replace Phyliss Marchand on the Princeton Township Committee, and, in November 2012, she was elected the first mayor of the consolidated community by defeating Republican Richard Woodbridge.
She has lived in Princeton for the past 13 years, with her husband, Ken Norman, a professor at Princeton University, and their two daughters.
She earned degrees from Stanford and Boston universities, and previously worked in broadcast journalism.
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer