Springtime Sun and Weather Beckons us to Spend Time Outside

Something incredible happens when sunny days become a more regular occurrence, daylight sticks around a bit later and temperatures begin to rise. Not only do you become more energized and alert, but the world around you does as well. It beckons you to come outside!

BLOOMING DAYS

As you see the flowers begin to bloom and grow, it can be enticing to spend more time amongst them. In fact, there are some beautiful gardens in our area that are perfect for a stroll, picnic or learning experience.

More than 250,000 flowering bulbs come to life in spring at Hamilton’s Sayen House & Gardens. With free admittance every day from dawn till dusk, there is ample opportunity to take in the azaleas and rhododendrons in bloom. Much of the collection of flowers that Frederick Sayen planted in the early 1900s are still on the property today. These include species you likely won’t see anywhere else nearby, as they come from around the world. To plan ahead or guide your day, set your phone up with this map. And make sure to mark your calendars for the Annual Azalea Festival on Mother’s Day!

Just north of our area are two other phenomenal gardens. In North Brunswick you can visit Rutgers Gardens year-round, to take in what it describes as a “living museum” as you enjoy the gardens and plant collections. For the next couple of months, you can explore on your own from 8am-5pm, any day except Mondays. Be sure to use this map and enjoy. Come May, if you want to learn while you look, you can also take advantage of a tour. Group tours are offered for a small fee of $10 (May-Nov), and they will be available on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons.

You can also head over to Somerset to check out Colonial Park Gardens. There you will encounter their award-winning Rose Garden and an arboretum that is nationally accredited. If you or someone you visit with is visually or physically impaired, a fragrance and sensory garden creates a deeper experience with plantings you can touch and smell. The perennial garden, once just home to lilacs, is now where you will see daffodils, daphnes and pinks come to life in spring. A little later in the season other flowers will join them, such as lilies, irises and roses. You can use this map to find all that Colonial Park Gardens offers.

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FLYING BY

In addition to flowers, our area is home to some amazing natural habitats for animals. Want to go birdwatching? Princeton has one of the best spots in the state!

Rogers Wildlife Refuge, bordering Institute for Advanced Study woods, is an area that has seen more than 190 species of birds over the years.

If you head over there soon, you might see the warblers migrating back to New Jersey. Usually by April first they start passing through. The property is vast, and over 90 species of birds use it as a nesting ground. Here is a list of the birds that have been seen in the refuge, as of 2005 – the list hasn’t been updated since, but it can still be a big help today. If you want a better understanding of the lay of the land, you can also utilize these maps.

Nearby in Lawrence Township, birding is also popular in the Pole Farm section of Mercer Meadows. Warblers can be seen there in the spring, too. In total, 221 bird species have been spotted there, seasonally. Observation platforms with posted signage can help you to identify some of what is flying by. This area also has an interesting history, formerly owned by AT&T and used for a shortwave radio station, where tall timber poles held up the wires around the property.

Along the Delaware River, from Trenton south to Bordentown you can also see birds at the Abbott Marshlands. 245 species of birds have been spotted there. Click to see a full list here. With over 3,000 acres of open space, you will find some different varieties of birds than the previous sites due to the waterways and ponds that make up the marshlands. You may even see owls up in the trees! If you are new to birdwatching, a Beginner Birdwatching class is offered at Abbot Marshlands every other Saturday.

MANMADE OUTDOOR EXPERIENCES

Credit: Six Flags Great Adventure

If your family wants a break from nature, and instead prefers more of a concrete landscape, area theme parks are opening up for the season!

Want to strap into a “first-of-its-kind” roller coaster in North America? Six Flags Great Adventure opens for the season in Jackson on March 16th, and that’s when you can try out The Flash: Vertical Velocity Roller Coaster. This “suspended spiraling impulse coaster” sends you to a 185-foot-tall spike, then whisks you into a corkscrew and backwards up 185-feet again. In 45-seconds you will cover 2,700 feet of track! Six Flags will also debut upgrades to Big Wheel and its Log Flume. New this year you can also experience an overnight resort offering glamping, while nestled in its 350-acre wild safari.

The only amusement park in the United States that is construction themed is Diggerland, in West Berlin, and it is also opening up this weekend on March 16th. New this year is a display of emergency vehicles kids can climb and play on. There’s also a new opportunity to control a giant forestry claw! You will have to wait until May 18th for the waterpark area to open.

If rides are your thing, the outdoor experience at The Funplex in Mt. Laurel is set to open on March 30th. Funcoaster, their drop tower, and seven other active experiences will be available with the Splashplex water park opening Memorial Day weekend.

Prefer heading to the shore for fun? Jenkinsons Boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach and Casino Pier at Seaside Heights both open on March 23rd. And you can plan ahead for a fun season of rides and games! On March 29, 30 and 31st, Jenkinsons will be offering its big Easter sale, giving you the opportunity to get amusement cards, game packages and more at greatly reduced prices! A similar sale is offered those dates for Casino Pier.

HELPING NATURE PREPARE FOR SPRING

Credit: Friends of Princeton Open Space

If you like to work with your hands, there’s a great opportunity for you to do so. After enduring fall and then winter, sometimes these great outdoor escapes need a little help to get back into shape. Friends of Princeton Open Space is gathering for a Spring Cleanup of Mountain Lakes in Princeton. You can sign-up for one of two sessions on March 23rd to help remove invasive plants, shrubs and vines to allow what’s there to breathe and create space for new plantings to come.

Whether you prefer to actively enjoy spring’s arrival or do so in a more passive way, we hope this gives you some new things to try out. Better yet, perhaps it reignites an old passion. Either way, get out and enjoy. Happy Spring!

Editor’s Note

We’re discussing everything that people are talking about – and also everything that people are not talking about in this month’s issue of Princeton Perspectives.

The February issue, Parity in Princeton? Does it, Should it and Can it Exist? opens the door to conversations about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion education, and the balance of ideologies, housing opportunities and political candidacy. These are the topics that are on everyone’s minds, but not always the ones people are comfortable discussing out loud.

We went into town this week and asked locals, is there parity in Princeton? They say, in some ways, yes, and in other ways, no. What are their reasons? Hear for yourself in this month’s Pulse of Princeton video.

To kick off our articles, we start by asking Does Princeton Offer Space for Safe and Responsive Dialogue? Through comments from a variety of locals, with diverse viewpoints and differing party affiliations, they let us know.

Princeton Public Schools is proud of its focus on equity, including through its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion education. Recently, some residents have shared they don’t agree with how it’s being done. It’s a conversation that we engage in through our article Perspectives on the Role of DEI Education in Our Schools, offering you two different views to read and consider.

Some say that debate about such education is politically driven, and therefore who is elected to office to represent your views could be vitally important. The article Are More and Diverse Candidates Needed in Local Politics for Better Representation? delves deeper into some conversations that have started around town about more Democrats running, Republicans challenging them and a greater breadth of minority candidates.

Speaking of options, Princeton is known for its million-dollar homes and has also shared its plans to build many more affordable living options. But some are still asking, Could Princeton’s Approach to Housing Offer Better Balance to Meet More Needs? This article takes a look into what might still be missing as Princeton builds out.

Cicadas and NARCAN. These are the topics we update for you in this month’s Perspectives Revisited. Read below to find out more!

This issue is not intended to be the final stop on every topic we bring up, rather a way for you to understand what others in the community are thinking and perhaps be the instigation for more conversation to come. Thanks for reading!

Pulse of Princeton: Is there parity in Princeton?

Does Princeton Offer Space for Safe and Responsive Dialogue?

Princeton, are you listening? Everyone has an opinion, but does everyone feel an equal opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings within the community, or even just amongst their friends? While people are allowed to speak out, is everyone truly allowed? And then, how well are we hearing and listening to each other?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

These are the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They make it clear that you can’t be jailed or fined for your peaceful opinions, criticisms, or advocacy. You have a constitutional right to speak out. We have seen this amendment strongly put to test on college campuses, in a post October 7th world, where advocates extoll the virtues of free speech for the necessary exchange of ideas. If we take away some of the recent controversies of free speech vs. hate speech, and simply look at the opportunity to share perspectives, does this opportunity extend out into society as a whole? Onto the streets of town? In our daily conversations and at our local schools?

Princeton prides itself on being a welcoming community. It is, after all, hometown to Princeton University and Institute for Advanced Study which bring scores of international residents in each year, and 35% of its population is Black, Asian, Latino and other. It is a town that has decried racism, condemned Antisemitism and Islamophobia, pushed for affordable housing, and is home to multiple nonprofits that ensure the underserved have food on the table. While Princeton welcomes its diversity of people, does it create a welcoming environment for diversity of thoughts as well? Are you able to voice a difference of opinion without being ostracized or considered fringe? Can everyone truly be heard?

“Many Princetonians proudly extol Princeton’s status as a Democratic stronghold,” explains resident Felicia Spitz. “In my role as Chair of the Democratic Municipal Committee, I work to make this a fact because real Democrats are environmental stewards who believe in affordable housing, racial equity, and fair wages. True Democrats not only support affordable housing development they also encourage inclusive zoning. They support fair wages and pay them directly for personal services like housekeeping, landscaping, and childcare. They welcome new residents regardless of immigration status, language spoken at home, or personal financial situation. They support business development and town-wide commerce initiatives because they understand the value of offering quality local jobs. Democrats care about people and work to both ensure and deliver social justice. Democrats are good citizens of the Earth and take steps to leave the next generation a healthy planet. I hope Princeton continues to be an oasis which welcomes everyone and reflects these values.”

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Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, people of various races, religions and nationalities, all call Princeton home. Are all of these people feeling welcomed in the “oasis” Spitz describes above? Within the openness with which Spitz sees Princeton, she says leadership is listening but admits that not everyone feels comfortable speaking their minds. That became evident when asking around town, as others shared that not only are they not feeling heard, but they also feel isolated and unable to speak up.

“You are not allowed to speak out. It is not a safe place to do that in this town,” shared one Princeton resident, who, like many we spoke to, agreed only to share thoughts anonymously.

Another local, Shenwei Zhao, adds, “I have lived in this area for 17 years (9 years in Montgomery and 7 in Princeton). I have never felt the town this divided as in the past couple of years.”

The divisions fall politically and ideologically as some in each party as well as independents can lean more left or right. While it is not uncommon for a more progressive, Democratic-leaning town like Princeton to have a dominant ideology, the question is, can those that don’t fit into that majority still fit in?

“In my view, Princeton remains an elitist, one-party, hypocritical, intolerant, closed society with present-day values consistent with the traditional southern city it once was,” says Dudley Sipprelle, Chair of the Princeton Republican Committee.

In a town run by Democrats, things tend to lean towards the left. But it is clear viewpoints don’t always fall along party lines. Within those that endorse the Democratic party, there is some contention around town as well. Last month, Princeton Council voted to consolidate its Affordable Housing Board, Human Services Commission and Civil Rights Commission into one entity known as the Community Services Advisory Committee. The all-Democratic Council argued it would create a more integrated approach and allow for better use of municipal resources. Others, often other Democrats, felt it showed an abandonment of support for civil rights and the underserved. When the vote went against their wishes, they didn’t feel heard.

One resident, who prefers to remain anonymous, shared a story of recently attending a celebration to welcome one of the newly elected Board of Education members to the role. “It was this crowd of people who had fought for Chmiel, and when I told people I went to it, you’d have thought I’d hung a Nazi swastika flag on the front of my house.”

Chmiel, referring to past Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel, was the center of an uproar of his own last school year, when then Superintendent Carol Kelley sought his removal. Thousands of residents signed petitions, and many turned up in person to his hearing to fight for him to keep his role, yet the overwhelming majority of the Board of Education did not seek to keep him in town. The non-partisan elected school board was getting pushback from people of all affiliations, but many thought a lack of diversity of opinion on the Board led to this decision and sought to change that. The recent November election saw a long-time BOE member ousted, and two newcomers join.

Standing up and speaking out can be hard to do as a group, but even harder to do when you are doing it alone. Earlier this month, two parents stood outside of Princeton Middle School, protesting what they describe as a divisive curriculum being taught there. In turn, their message was deemed to be divisive. They were soon described in another publication by Board of Education President Dafna Kendal as a “small minority.” Their viewpoints are said to not be part of Princeton’s mainstream, but they may not necessarily be so obscure.

If you were a fly on the wall in any restaurant in Princeton, you could surely hear people, beyond those protestors, sharing concerns about how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is implemented in schools. If you were an hors d’oeuvres at a local house party, you could hear someone discussing their desire to support Donald Trump for President. And if you had a peek into many private homes, you would hear dinner conversations about a hope for tighter border security. But as people are sharing with Princeton Perspectives, they don’t feel most in Princeton are open to one having such opinions and it has become necessary too often to keep those conversations to oneself.

“There is a fear of being judged. As one says they are liberal, they don’t allow others to voice their opinions. It’s either their opinion or no opinion,” another frustrated Princeton resident states anonymously, a homeowner who is seeking to move out of town because their family doesn’t feel welcome with their more conservative ideologies.

Zhao, a first-generation immigrant, sees this happening around him but still feels compelled to speak out. “I know many people already feel afraid to speak up due to many societal constraints. That’s very sad. I am lucky in the sense that I don’t have those constraints yet, because who I am and what I do. Many people do need to think about what might happen to them if they speak freely, as this country used to allow them to do.”

Speaking out can mean in conversations with friends, in discussions about school curriculums, and it can also fall within the political arena itself. Residents such as Sipprelle who leads the local Republican committee, feels comfortable speaking out but doesn’t feel heard.

“With only 9% of Princeton voters being registered Republicans and with potentially viable Republican candidates unwilling to run in local elections, I’m not considered to pose a threat to the political status quo,” Sipprelle notes. “On the other hand, I have not been considered for appointment to any municipal board, committee or commission by the last three Democrat Mayors. The municipality advertises for applicants for its BCCs [Boards, Commissions and Committees], but no Republicans need apply, especially not this one.”

It appears this perception is not limited to Republicans. A Democrat, who would not go on record, shared they have applied to no less than 10 BCCs, and has not been considered for one. They state it’s because they are not in sync with those that run the local Democratic party.

Spitz, the leading officer of the Princeton Democratic Municipal Committee, doesn’t see it that way. “I do believe that all voices are equally valued by our governing body and many of our institutions (Princeton Public Library, Princeton University, YWCA, etc.). The current governing body is genuinely committed to listening, regardless of a resident’s political party, socio-economic status, or other demographic characteristic(s).”

Another resident similarly shares that the town leadership works hard to balance all of the input they receive, and from a variety of viewpoints, but adds there is a bit more nuance to it.

“People in Princeton are not quiet – they speak up, sometimes loudly when they feel passionate about an issue, and it impacts their family or community. I think that having debate even when it is loud or awkward is better than silence,” this longtime Princeton resident says, another who asked to go unnamed. “Dialogue on political matters, and other issues, seems to be lacking because sometimes there may be a lack of respect for the other person’s view and tolerance for differences. There is more intensity and more polarization on everything.”

Many we spoke to asked not to be identified, that may be telling. Altogether, it is something to think about. Perhaps, if in fact people aren’t being heard, this is an opportunity for those that think they’re being open and welcoming, to rethink it and listen better. And, perhaps, if those people that don’t feel heard can see others stating they are open to hearing them, they will speak out more. As the municipality that was once the nation’s capital, there appears to be agreement that Princeton needs to ensure all of its residents feel the fundamental liberties of free speech are not only a legally obligation but welcomed.

Are More and Diverse Candidates Needed in Local Politics for Better Representation?

To win most elected seats on the Princeton Ballot, one must simply receive more votes than any other singular opponent. So, it would make sense that most often the candidate that wins, is the one whose party holds a majority amongst the electorate. New Jersey, Mercer County and Princeton are all democratic strongholds, therefore, more often than not, a Democrat wins.

Mercer County has not had a Republican leader since 2004. In fact, there has not been a Republican elected in all County government for years. They have run for seats as County Freeholder/County Commissioner but not won since 1997. Other County roles like Sheriff, Clerk and Surrogate have similarly reelected Democrats.

In Princeton, there have only been a total of five Republican candidates in all the races for Mayor and Council since consolidation in 2013. 2016 saw one Republican vie for Mayor, and 2013, 2015 and 2018 each had at least one try to gain a seat on Council. They didn’t win. The last Republican running for Council earned only 13% of the vote.

The unique aspect of political races in Princeton is that in recent years, the races have little to no contest at all. Not just by an opposing party but by any opposing candidates– even in the primaries.

Are more and diverse candidates needed in politics? Should local elections have more people run, even if from the same party? Should Republican and 3rd party candidates throw their hats into the races to provide more opportunity of choice? And amongst those that do choose to run, are we seeing enough of a reflection of the community’s make-up?

THE SINGULAR DEMOCRAT

Since 2020 there have never been more Democrats running in the primary for Princeton Council than the number of open seats. And no other party candidates ran, so all races were uncontested, making it more of an official process than anything. Just two years before that, 6 candidates campaigned for the 2 available seats.

And for Mayor, not since the first elected Mayor of the consolidated Princeton has there been a contest, neither in the primary or general election.

“Having competitive elections means candidates must campaign. They should knock on doors and listen to what is on the minds of residents. They debate, take positions, or defend votes they have taken. That is good for democracy,” says Jo Butler, who was a 2-term member of the consolidated Princeton Council following time as a Princeton Borough Councilwoman. “During a campaign, the rules of engagement are different. There can be debate and discussion, but that seems to have disappeared from the local political landscape.”

Butler and former Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller have been vocal in their efforts to get people to run for office. They believe there is more accountability and transparency when candidates campaign to get and work to keep their role. They have developed the Princeton Democrats Information Page to help anyone who may have an interest, learn what to do. Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) and Princeton Democratic Municipal Committee (PDMC) used to offer joint gatherings. They were intended to inform about the party, local politics, how to serve in elected and other capacities, and for potential candidates to learn how to get involved and run for office. But those gatherings have not been offered in recent years.

“The last one I recall was in 2019. Well, you know what happened after that with the pandemic, lockdowns, and it taking a while for people to feel comfortable gathering together in confined spaces with relative (or complete) strangers,” recalls Owen O’Donnell, past Chair and current District 16 representative of the PDMC. “We had discussions about having one late last year or early this year, but we were so involved in a competitive legislative race in our district and then I had personal and business issues that prevented me from devoting much time to this.”

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Butler and Crumiller say they offered to help get the gatherings going again, but the groups decided not to host them now.

“When the suggestion was brought up to hold a similar event at the end of December, our organization was amidst reorganization and endorsement planning efforts, making it challenging to organize something substantial at such short notice,” explain Nick DiDomizio, President of PCDO. He says while past gatherings were informative, they did not appear to increase the number of candidates. “While past events have aimed to provide insight into running for office and becoming more involved in local politics, we also recognize the importance of encouraging individuals to direct their own political ambitions and commitments. In addition to the programs we offer, the PCDO provides information and resources on our website in a dedicated resource section entitled, “New to Princeton and Looking to Get Involved?” and has for some time now.”

(Nov. 2023 Sample Ballot)

With all these opportunities, why has Princeton turned not just to one-party rule, but no contest elections? Butler thinks it is in part because the positions on Council have become a full-time role, an opportunity not everyone has the luxury of pursuing. Many have also shared with Princeton Perspectives they feel candidacy is controlled by a core group in town.

“That is PCDO and PDMCs fault and Janice Miranov’s [Mercer County Democratic Committee Chair] fault, because they make the decisions on who can run,” another active local Democrat shared with Princeton Perspectives, anonymously. PCDO says they endorse, but don’t pick candidates and their free membership is open to all of Princeton’s registered Democrats.

To date, one new candidate, Board of Education member Brian McDonald, has announced his bid to run as a Democrat for a seat on Council. Eve Neidergang is not seeking reelection, so her seat is open. And Leighton Newlin is hoping to retain his. Mayor Mark Freda has shared he will run again and so far, no one else has announced a campaign against him.

There’s still time, however. Democrat and Republican candidates have until March 25th to file paperwork for the primary, and independent candidates need to file by June 4th to be on the general election ballot.

PARTY POLITICS

“What happens in a place like Princeton, when you have decades of a uni-party running, people in those towns start to feel isolated, their voices aren’t being heard. It’s not to say we’ll never agree on those instances, but our republic wasn’t created for us to agree on everything. That’s reserved for communist countries. If you really believe in America, in the American dream, you believe in diversity of thought, diversity of political representation,” states Darius Mayfield, 2022 Republican candidate for Congress against Bonnie Watson Coleman, who is campaigning again this year for the US District 12 seat. “If you have a city council with 6 people, why not put 1 or 2 Republicans on there? It holds people accountable at the same time.”

As of publication, no Republicans have yet announced bids for mayor or council this year in Princeton. It was 2018 the last time a Republican ran for a Council seat, and 2016 when one campaigned for Mayor.

At the County, there have been Republicans vying for all elected offices, but for decades the Democrats have beat them out. Democrats Paula Sollami Covello has been County Clerk since 2006, Surrogate Diane Gerofsky has held her post since 1996 and Sheriff Jack Kemler has been reelected since 2010. It wasn’t always this way. Mercer County was led by a Republican County Executive for 24 years, until 2004.

The state level has been a bit different. In NJ District 16, our Senator and representatives in the Assembly were all Republican until Andrew Zwicker broke the hold when elected as Assemblyman in 2016. Roy Freiman then joined him in 2018 and in 2022, Zwicker took the Senate seat from Republicans when he was voted into that role. That year, Democrats took all the District 16 seats.

In the latest election, only 17% of the Princeton vote went to the Republican Senate candidate, and approximately 77% more Princeton voters chose the Democratic Assembly candidates.

At the national level, Princeton was part of a district that had a 33-year Republican reign in Congress until 1999 when Rush Holt flipped the seat. His eight terms have been followed by five terms of Bonnie Watson Coleman (D).

“Republican representation, not just here in this area but across the state, has fallen quite a bit. They started getting out-fundraised, started not filling committee seats that needed to be filled. Maybe some Republicans got a little lazy and started feeding into that notion that NJ is turning Democratic and didn’t work as hard as they did in previous cycles,” Mayfield explains.

As he kicks off his 2024 campaign, Mayfield says he’s willing to put in the hard work because despite his affiliation as a Republican, he sees there are voters out there from all parties that align with his thinking, including Princeton’s Chinese American population. And when it comes to issues like education/school choice or the border, he hears concerns from voters of all parties alike. As there are more unaffiliated voters in US District 12 than there are Democrats, he says it’s more about where they land than how everyone is registered.

“I’m a man that speaks for everyone. Not black, not white, American,” Mayfield exclaims. “I feel like I’m the guy that can relate because I come from humble beginnings, born in New Brunswick, NJ but my mom moved us to S. Brunswick when I was young. I understand the plight of Black and Brown as well as Caucasian from those area, as I was fortunate enough to live in both at the end of the day. NJ is one of the most diverse states in the country, especially diversity of political thought, so I am vying for the vote and support of Republicans, unaffiliated as well as Democrats.”

REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT

Beyond what party one is affiliated with, there is a lot of talk in recent years about who the actual candidate is – based upon gender, race, religion and more. Some say, a person with the experience, conviction and know how to do the job best should get it. And while that may be true, others say there is a bit more to it.

“It’s important to keep in mind elected officials are at the end of the day just people. As people we draw upon our experiences, networks and perspectives. Government operates better and more equitable when we have people of more diverse backgrounds in office and leadership,” Former NJ District 16 Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer shares. Jaffer was one of the first Asian American women and Muslim Americans to serve in the NJ legislature.

New Jersey is a progressive state, yet there is still a disparity between its population and its representation. The state is 51% female but has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate. The Garden state elected its first woman to statewide office in 1994, when Christine Todd Whitman became governor. The first woman of color and first Black woman to ever be elected to statewide office in NJ was the late Sheila Oliver in 2018, then Lt. Governor to Phil Murphy. In our state Legislature, where Jaffer served, the last election voted in fewer woman than the previous session. Today they make up 34% of those in that office. Before serving one term in the Assembly, Jaffer was Mayor of nearby Montgomery Township.

“During the pandemic there was a rise in domestic violence, and I heard some women were looking for help and resources. In our township communications we highlighted domestic violence resources. For those women who reached out to me, I wonder if there had been a man in the position of mayor, if those women would’ve been comfortable,” Jaffer explains. “In legislation, the one I’m most proud to have sponsored is the Language Access Bill, which gets documents translated into different languages. In speaking to immigrant groups, they highlighted this as one of their # 1 needs. Giving those practical examples show the importance of being of different communities and who their communities will draw to if they need help.”

One of the most diverse states in the country, NJ has the second largest Jewish and Muslim populations. It also has one of the largest Cuban and Peruvian populations stateside. According to the American Community Survey Data, New Jersey’s population is 49% minority (Hispanic, Black, Asian and other). Yet, in the state legislature, those minority populations comprise only 31% of elected officials. So, why is there not more diversity in the makeup of our elected officials?

Research shows that if they are on the ticket, minority candidates are as equally likely to win as their white counterparts. To be elected, however, one has to run, and there are a lot of factors that weigh into that decision. Sheshouldrun.org offers 26 reasons that have kept women from doing so. They include a need to balance family responsibilities, not being asked or knowing where to start, not having financial stability to do so and not wanting to be judged for who they are. Many of these reasons are similar for other minorities such as Black, Latino and AAPI. Though Asians are the fasting growing demographic in the US, they are the most unrepresented group in politics.

“I think it can seem like a real insiders’ world, where you need to know certain people and be connected. Perhaps people from diverse communities don’t have those connections. Formal training and mentorship programs are important but also political parties need to make it a priority to diversify their candidate pool,” recalls Jaffer. “Unfortunately, in 2021 when I ran there were websites and text messages that said I was a radical, an extremist and more. It’s just very tough for south Asian women candidates of a Muslim background to run. There has to be some consideration for safety and protection.”

2024 LOCAL POLITICS

Will there be more diversity in 2024?

Princeton will vote for both municipal and county offices. There are no state level elections this year, but in the national races, Congress, 1 Senate seat and President are up for election.

With time still available for newcomers to join the races, it will be revealed over the next several months whether greater diversity is presented to voters for their consideration.

Editor’s Note

2024 has brought with it several firsts. We saw our first meaningful snowfall this week, giving area schools their first snow day. Minimum wage reached its highest level yet for New Jersey. And, as of Jan. 1st, if you get a call from a telemarketer, for the first time they must provide the name, mailing address, and telephone number for the person they represent within 30 seconds.

If those aren’t enough good things, we’re here to help you with our January issue A Fantastic and Fresh Start to the New Year. From ways to help better yourself, to ways to help better others, government changes and more, Princeton Perspectives is kicking off your 2024.

How did you start the new year? This month’s Pulse of Princeton asks locals what they are planning to do to make 2024 different. Maybe they’ll give you some inspiration! Hear all of their responses in the video now.

There are already changes underway at state, county and municipal levels. The article Government Kicks off 2024 With New Officials and New Plans delves into each level of leadership to inform you what has changed in the new year, how it may impact you and what you need to know to stay on top of it all.

At times, you think you just might have everything under control and then, something slips. The article Sometimes a Little Help Can Go a Long Way provides insight into the local charity Housing Initiatives of Princeton, explaining what help might be available should you need it and how you can provide some of that assistance if you’re able.

Whether you are a newcomer to Princeton or an old-timer, I bet there are some things you are not yet aware of. Did you Know? Rules and Recommendations for Living Your Best Life in Princeton shares some procedures, opportunities and places that can help you to take advantage of all Princeton has to offer.

Speaking of taking advantage, to live your best life you need to be sure you’re taking care of you. In the article Starting Small is the Key to a Restart in the New Year a local expert shares some easy tips to help you attain your physical and mental best self.

To do so, you should also read this month’s Perspectives Revisited, where we share new laws and new chances to enjoy and advance yourself.

We’re excited to wish you a very Happy New Year and thank you for starting the year off with us!

Pulse of Princeton: How are you making 2024 different?