Mayor Lempert draws on roots as community organizer

By Kaleb Anderson
Atlanta, Ga.

The small town of Princeton prides itself on continuing education and maintaining a safe community. Liz Lempert, mayor of Princeton, oversees a $6 million municipal budget and is committing herself to work toward a better and more diverse community.

Lempert grew up in San Mateo, Calif. Her parents are natives of New York state. She attended Stanford University and became a journalist in the Stanford, Calif. area. Lempert married, had two children, and moved to Princeton when her husband became a psychology professor at the university in 1999.

Lempert isn’t completely foreign to politics because her mother was once the mayor of San Mateo, Calif. In Princeton, she became well known politically for her support of then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.

In local politics, Lempert has been active on the school council. Patience Haggin, news editor for The Daily Princetonian, wrote in a 2013 profile that “Liz Lempert, the first mayor of the consolidated Princeton, is more of a community organizer than a politician.”

The consolidation that brought the formerly separate Princeton Borough and Princeton Township together under one government presented challenges for Lempert. The two communities had operated independently since 1837.

“There were a lot of inefficiencies because of the processes,” she said, noting particular issues with combining the police departments.

Lempert expressed her concerns for the town. “I’m concerned with development and the pace of the development,” she said.

She also spoke about the relationship between Princeton University and the town of Princeton and noted that the demographics of university students are similar to the overall demographics of the town itself.

But while their populations may be similar, there are conflicts between the two. Because the university is a tax-exempt organization, it pays limited taxes, but it also makes large voluntary donations to the town. “The university is the largest taxpayer in Princeton and the largest non-taxpayer in Princeton,” Lempert said.

Lempert added that the town has limited opportunities to raise money. “Because of the way New Jersey is constructed, we can’t even charge a sales tax.” The state’s only option, she said, is to “enforce a hotel tax.” Compounding the problem is that most hotels visitors stay in are actually located outside of the town of Princeton.

Lempert said that no matter her concerns for the town, she is also cognizant of the challenges Princeton University faces. Even though there are times when both entities will conflict, she said it is best to maintain the relationship.

She continues to ask herself: “How do we stay diverse economically and ethnically?” This question holds promise for the future of both Princeton and Princeton University, and will push the growth of both entities into the future.

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