Princeton mayor asks candidates to keep campaign signs off public property


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Mayor Liz Lempert has warned the candidates running for the Princeton Public 
Schools Board of Education and the Princeton Council it is against the law for their campaign lawn signs to be in the public right of way. It was the first time Lempert had ever taken such a step and one she acknowledged could have come sooner.

Speaking to reporters on Oct. 22, Lempert explained she had provided the candidates a courtesy notification “because I know those signs are expensive … .”

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She said she was prompted by the “volume of signs” and four complaints from constituents, whom she did not identify.

“I’m asking that you act in good faith as a member of the Princeton community and possible future office holder and follow the rules,” Lempert wrote the candidates in an Oct. 18 email she provided to local media. “Frankly, the municipality does not have the resources to step up enforcement and constantly police the situation, and even if we did, we don’t want to be in the position of removing and disposing of your signs.”

Lempert said none of the candidates asked her to send the message.

“I did not get any candidates feeling it was inappropriate for me to send out that email,” she said.

Ordinances for the former Princeton Borough and Princeton Township allow campaign signs on private property, but not on the public right of way. The town has not yet consolidated the sign ordinance.

One candidate, whom Lempert declined to identify, contacted her and said “they hoped that everybody would follow the rule,” Lempert said.

Two of Lempert’s fellow Democrats supported her action.

“I think her appeal that as future lawmakers we should follow the law is compelling,” Democratic council candidate Eve Niedergang said on Oct. 22. “We took down all our signs, or tried to. Hope we didn’t miss any.”

“Liz is correct and all candidates should comply,” said Dwaine Williamson, the other Democrat running for council, on Oct. 22.

“I know and respect the law that prohibits the use of public property for political signs and I did not put any signs on medians, at intersections, or beside parks or on public property, and asked my supporters to do the same,” said school board candidate Brian J. McDonald. “I was pleased when Mayor Lempert sent out a reminder and hope all of the candidates play by the rules. I think it is important that as candidates for school board, we model the behaviors we want our students to adopt.”

School board candidate Daniel Dart declined to comment.

“Candidates are acutely aware of the communication challenges inherent in reaching voters, not all of whom read local news media,” school board candidate Mary Clurman said. “Lawn signs are one of the few ways to reach them.”

“I support freedom of speech,” Republican council candidate Lisa Wu said.

Since she did not have email addresses for federal candidates, Lempert said she also had written to the head of the Princeton Democratic Party and, through an intermediary, the leader of the Princeton Republican Party.

“I really dislike signs like that all over,” council President Jenny Crumiller said on Oct. 22.
Yet she later said, “I’ve done campaigns and I have put signs, on Election Day, on the right of way.”

The timing of the Lempert email came with the campaign season winding down to its final weeks. Voters will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to choose two new members of the Princeton Council and three members of the school board, in addition to county and federal races.

“I take the blame for not having put the word out earlier,” said Lempert, who added she had contacted the town clerk’s office to have an informational flier for candidates in the future.

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