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PRINCETON: Mayor Lempert keeping an eye on school board race, but staying neutral on candidates

Mayor Liz Lempert is keeping an eye on the Princeton school board race.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Mayor Liz Lempert is keeping an eye on the race for Princeton school board, but don’t expect her to say anytime soon which of the six candidates she is backing.
She is taking a publicly neutral stance, to avoid making herself a “distraction for someone’s campaign,” in her words Monday.
“I just feel that there’s a lot of strong candidates this time,” she told reporters, “and sometimes I found, in the past, that when I throw my support behind somebody, it can create a distraction.”
Technically, the municipal government and the school board are separate. But that didn’t stop the mayor and council members from recently opposing the enrollment expansion of the Princeton Charter School. Mayor Lempert also is part of the same social and political network of people involved in the school board. When she ran for re-election in 2016, four sitting school board members at the time — Molly Chrein, Andrea Spalla, Fern Spruill and Patrick Sullivan — signed onto an advertisement, in a local paper, endorsing her.
“I feel like the focus should be on the school board race,” Mayor Lempert said in adding she won’t make a “public announcement” of whom supports.
“What I care about is, number one, is my own, personal vote that I’m casting as a voter,” she said when reminded of her attendance at last week’s candidates’ forum. “And number two, I think, showing the importance of this race and what people are saying to the community. So I have fully thrown my support behind the fact that this is a contested race and that we have a lot of great candidates.”
In all, six people are running for three seats: Beth Behrend, Jess Deutsch, James Fields, Jenny Ludmer, Julie Ramirez and former Princeton Township Mayor Michele Tuck-Ponder.
At last week’s forum, the candidates reacted to town officials’ involvement in school district policies, like with them taking a position on the charter school.
Ludmer said she thought it important for school officials to work with the town but “not feel, like, bullied by them or not feel like they are in charge because, ultimately, it is still our schools and our students and our tax dollars that we have to protect.”
Behrend said at one point that “I don’t understand how you make sensible, long-term planning for the schools without working hand-in-hand with the municipality. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Mayor Lempert, who had the public backing of Behrend and Deutsch in 2016, said she sees the crowded field for school board “partly a sign of just an increased desire to get involved in local government, which I think is a great thing.”

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