Six candidates face off for three seats on West Windsor’s Township Council

West Windsor residents will have choices on the ballot for both the school board and the council when voting is done next week.

Residents on Nov. 5 will elect candidates to fill three open seats for a four-year term on the West Windsor Township Council.

Incumbent Alison Miller will face off against Shin-Yi Lin and Yan Mei Wang. Non-partisan team, Community Leaders for West Windsor, which is made up of candidates Andrea Sue Mandel, Sonia Gawas and Michael Ray Stevens, will run to fill the roles on the council as well.

Miller is currently serving in her 14th nonconsecutive year on the West Windsor Township Council. She said she has “served the community with dedication, creativity, fiscal prudence, awareness of our place in the greater neighborhood and humor.” She feels ready and able to continue for four more years.

Lin is a full-time working mother who has lived in West Windsor since 2003. She earned a PhD in molecular biology and has worked mostly as an academic researcher and teacher. She said that she has leadership and policy experience from her time at Princeton University, at the National Academies of Sciences and currently in New Jersey government through her work as an Eagleton Science Fellow.

Lin is a scientist with advocacy and professional policymaking experience who is running to offer her professionalism, expertise and energy to bring our community together so the council can tackle West Windsor’s issues collaboratively. Lin said she is a candidate who believes in the value of public service and has a sustained record of volunteer work and innovating ambitious projects.

Wang first moved to Mercer County in 2002 as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University in biophysics. She began living in West Windsor in 2015 with her husband and two children.  Over the past four years, Wang said she learned about the challenges West Windsor faces by communicating with 2,500 West Windsor families, found proven successful solutions by taking 10 infrastructure and transportation training courses at Rutgers University and acted by initiating/solving three West Windsor programs/problems.

Wang said she introduced pavement preservation to West Windsor at Marian Drive and Dinsmore Lane this past June. When implemented to all streets in West Windsor, this program will save $500 a year per family on taxes and vehicle repair costs and reduce West Windsor air pollution by 2%, she said. She also founded the West Windsor Plastics for West Windsor Parks program to recycle plastic film and wraps into park benches—the first bench will be soon be unveiled in the Ronald R. Rogers Arboretum. Wang said she solved the Mews apartment complex train station shuttle noise problem for hundreds of residents while reducing West Windsor air pollution by 0.1%.

Mandel has been a resident of West Windsor for 30 years with her husband Richard.  They have one daughter who attended the West Windsor-Plainsboro school system. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the City University of New York and went on to earn her master’s degree in industrial engineering at Rutgers. Over the years, she worked for five major corporations, becoming a department senior manager with a staff of engineers and technicians. She said she managed operational budgets, capital budgets, cost savings programs, design, development and marketing programs until starting her own consulting firm.

Almost 25 years ago, Mandel became involved as a Girl Scout leader and soon joined the service team. She ran major events such as weekend campouts, handled publicity, photography and their web presence.  As an elected delegate to the GS National Convention, Mandel represent Girl Scouts of Central and Southern NJ at the national level. She is currently chair of the WW Gold/Silver awards committee and has mentored many girls in their projects.

She worked with a small group to fight the Howard Hughes property on Clarksville Road by educating fellow residents and speaking out at community meetings. She is a member of the West Windsor Planning Board and the West Windsor Environmental Commission.

Gawas has been a PTA volunteer for over five years, serving on various committees and board positions including vice president of fundraising, Maurice Hawk PTA president and school district athletic task force member. She started Girl Scout Troop 70218 in 2016, she is a former school board president at Dutch Neck Presbyterian Church Cooperative Nursery School and a former trustee of the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. She holds a bachelor’s degree in commerce and subsequent work experience in business development.

Stevens has been a resident of West Windsor Township since 1993. He is a parent mentor for multiple high schools’ robotics competition team, The MidKnight Inventors, from the first formation of the team back in 2005. He is a member of the West Windsor Volunteer Fire Company No. 1, where he serves as fire police captain and chair of the grants committee, where he worked to successfully obtain a $300,000+ FEMA grant to supply new upgraded breathing apparatus to both of the township’s volunteer fire companies.

As a resident, Stevens has been active at the township level dealing with issues ranging from flooding to the Department of Transportation’s attempt to change the traffic flow at the Washington Circle on Route 1. He has served as vice president of medical affairs for the Bristol-Myers Squibb Virology unit, where he oversaw a substantial budget to conduct HIV/AIDS trials in the US and abroad, gaining valuable analytical and business skills that he would bring to the council.

In order to provide candidates with an equitable platform to discuss their plans for the township council, all six candidates were given the same questions.

Why are you running for a seat on the township council? What drives you to public service?

Miller: I have a long history of public service. Besides township council, I have been a member, at different times, of the planning board, zoning board, site plan review board, parking authority, affordable housing committee and cable television review board. I am a founding trustee, and still serve as trustee, of Friends of West Windsor Open Space, of which I was president for eight years, and the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance. I love this community and feel honored to be able to give back to the place that I call home.

Lin: After the 2016 election, I started paying more attention to how decisions are being made at the local level. My observations have worried me, in terms of our representation, and in terms of our capacity to promote forward-thinking, evidence-based policymaking. I decided to run because I believe voters are interested in the kind of municipal leadership I can offer—one that is clear about the values with which I will serve our residents, and one that promotes a local decision-making process that includes representative community engagement as well as research and expertise.

It is important to have local leaders who accurately represent the values of a community that votes overwhelmingly democratic. While our elections are technically non-partisan, I’ve seen how the legislative work of council regularly reflects underlying partisanship. It’s for this reason that I’ve chosen to honestly disclose my affiliation as a progressive democrat, so that I am displaying the kind of transparency to the voters I think we deserve.

Wang: Being in public service was my childhood dream; it is why I came to America. I believe that a good policy can be the deciding factor to steer a community in the right direction at frequently critical historical moments and I want to be the public servant that contributes to making these policies. As noted above, after years of community involvement on township issues and delivering results as a township resident, I feel that I can be more effective at improving our township as a council member.

Mandel: I have lived in West Windsor for 30 years and feel we are at a crossroads. We are a good town with good schools; however, if we let developers run over us for a quick buck, we can go downhill fast. I don’t want that to happen and feel that my experience and knowledge can help prevent it. On the positive side, I have been part of various initiatives to improve the town.

I’ve been involved in public service as a volunteer most of the time I have lived here.  As a woman who studied engineering at a time when you had to fight to be the first or only woman in schools, companies and organizations, I know how hard it can be. I’ve always felt the need to pay it forward by making sure there is opportunity for the next generations. I want our residents to be able to enjoy a pleasant environment, nature and an overall good quality of life.

Gawas: Community service has always been a meaningful part of my life. Having volunteered in the community I feel that I bring a ground up view to the challenges our community faces and bring fiscally viable solutions. Be it the school PTA, the Girl Scouts, the West Windsor-Plainsboro athletic task force. It gives me considerable satisfaction to give back to the community that my family and I are part of. 

Stevens:  I have always felt that one should give back to one’s community, dating back to my earning the Eagle Scout award. This was further driven home to me during Hurricane Irene in 2011, when my daughter and I had to be rescued by the fire department. They began recruiting me before the boat came ashore. Joining with the men and women who choose to serve our community has been one of the greatest honors of my life. I was able to gain a unique, first-hand experience of the needs of the township and feel that the township council is the next logical step in my service.

Other than taxes, what are the most pressing issues facing the township, and, if elected, how do I plan to tackle them?

Miller: West Windsor faces the threat of overdevelopment, traffic clogging our roads (homegrown and from our neighbors) and deterioration of our quality of life. If re-elected, I will oppose re-zoning from commercial to residential uses. West Windsor has plenty to do to welcome new residents that will be coming here as a result of our obligation to provide low- and moderate-income housing; we will need time to deal with the impact to our schools, our roads and our public services. We need to nurture our nascent downtown in Princeton Junction. We must improve safety at crowded intersections, concentrate on roadway repair and make room for pedestrians and bicyclists. We need to purchase more open space, develop some of the open space we have, in order to meet recreational needs. We need new restaurants and retail and small business opportunities. We also need to look into how other towns control their deer populations, and deal with ours.  We must do something about plastic waste by limiting single-use plastic bags given out by stores, and we must educate people about how easy it is to recycle plastics not taken by our biweekly recycling.  All of these actions will improve our quality of life.

Lin: West Windsor government needs to evolve. We have grown substantially in population over the last two decades, and we have a large fraction of commuters and immigrants—making it even more challenging to ensure that our residents are informed of and engaged in the work of government. All too often, legal requirements around public input represent the endpoint, not the starting place of our outreach to our community. The signature issue of my campaign is to prioritize relationship building within our community and with our neighbors. We need it for quality of life, good and effective government, so that we are meeting the needs and complex challenges of the future. I have a package of ideas to address this issue described in my contract with West Windsor.

Wang: The quality of our residents’ lives is significantly affected by the ever-increasing property taxes, residential overdevelopment—a key contributor to the escalating taxes, and consequential issues—infrastructure upkeep and upgrade backlog, traffic safety issues, overcrowded schools and environmental impacts.

This past May, West Windsor resolved our Third Round Affordable Housing Plan by projecting to build 3,396 new residences by 2025. These new homes will increase West Windsor’s population and property taxes by 30%. Yet, the pressure to build more residential units is continuously present. Soon, we will need to plan for our next round of affordable housing obligation in 2025. It is urgent that we slow down our residential overdevelopment by preserving the remaining 500-acre open space in West Windsor. As a council member, I will work with the township to aggressively preserve farms with the largely available funding from the state, county, our open space taxes and private sources. Meanwhile, an estimated 20% of office and ratable spaces in West Windsor remain unoccupied. As a council member, I will work to introduce proven successful infrastructure-improving and tax-saving initiatives to sustain and grow our current local businesses and usher in new ones.

Mandel: Our biggest challenge is residential overdevelopment. A lot of our key problems – overcrowded schools, high taxes due to the school budget, crowded roads and overburdened infrastructure – stem from it. Adding more residential units than already approved will drive us past the breaking point. I worked on the new Master Plan element for open space and we should ensure all specified land is purchased when available – this is a win-win of no new residences and more environmental and recreational space.

I will not change the commercial zoning for Howard Hughes land, WWM Properties West or other properties to allow for residential development. Instead, I will look to seek advice from national experts in marketing properties to businesses to build these properties into good commercial retables.

Our infrastructure, particularly sidewalks and roads, are another challenge. We need to intelligently fix and maintain them and replace them when needed. Many of our sidewalks are unusable – the trees push them up, making for dangerous walking conditions. The town fixes them every so often, but it is a vicious cycle that cannot be kept up. We need to evaluate alternate plantings, tree root covers, more flexible sidewalk materials, etc. and come up with an intelligent program to fix our infrastructure.

I am also a big advocate of transparent and open communication.  We need a one stop channel for residents to know what is going on in town, and a way to report issues and problems. If you report something you should know that somebody recorded it and get real time status on where it stands – open tracking and feedback.

Gawas: Residential growth has escalated quickly in our township driven by the need to meet our legal obligations on affordable housing. Our township’s latest affordable housing plan was approved in May, protecting us from builders’ remedy lawsuits until 2025.

In order to contain future residential growth, we need to commit to stop rezoning of any properties from commercial to residential including WWM Properties West and Howard Hughes to prevent building of residential units.

The residential growth has a ripple effect on everything, adding significantly to the traffic issues, overcrowding of our already crowded schools, putting undue burden on our emergency services, and putting more stress on our overall infrastructure.

The Mandel-Gawas-Stevens team is proposing to retain a business development professional. The commercial retail environment is changing rapidly, and we need people with the right skill set to build the best strategy for West Windsor. We need to sustain our current local businesses and attract new ones to provide additional commercial ratable.

Stevens: Across the township, two central issues emerge. First, there is great concern over unrestricted residential growth. Second, many are concerned about the safety of our roads and neighborhoods.

To address the issue of overdevelopment, we must protect ourselves from developers who seek to build hundreds, if not thousands, of new homes. Such growth inevitably leads to a negative “ripple effect” resulting in higher taxes, increased infrastructure demands, more traffic and congestion and increased demands on fire, police and emergency services. Our slate of candidates, Community Leaders for West Windsor, strongly believe that we must emphatically say no to rezoning any properties from commercial to residential, including WWM Properties West and Howard Hughes, to prevent building residential units beyond those we have agreed on to satisfy our affordable housing obligation through 2025. Our slate’s vision is to bring new tax-paying businesses to West Windsor using our current zoning under the township’s Master Plan.

Our residents have expressed growing concerns with speeding, distracted driving, aggressive driving, rush hour congestion and other issues dealing with safety on our township’s roadways. I believe that addressing these concerns demands a multifaceted approach, combining governmental and community efforts. These concerns are not unique to West Windsor, and other municipalities have addressed these issues through a combination of law enforcement, education and awareness. West Windsor would be well served by adopting this three-pronged approach. I will work closely with the police department to ensure that our traffic laws are fairly and justly enforced. I will seek out opportunities to educate our drivers and others who use our roadways.

How would you say you differ from your opponent? Why should voters choose you? 

Miller: My experience in West Windsor government sets me apart from my opponents. I have worked with four different mayors who had four different styles of interacting with council; and have been able to work with all 16 of the council members I have served with, those I ran with and those who opposed me alike. I know how to reach a consensus, and how to move decisively when consensus is impossible. Downzoning to limit single-family developments, passing our first resolution opposing assault weapons and advocating for limiting single-use plastic bags are examples of decisive action; passing ordinances to keep development out of the greenbelt, advocating for more sidewalks and safer crossings at key intersections and putting forward the affordable housing policies of avoiding all-affordable projects because of adverse social outcomes, requiring affordable units to be scattered among the market units, and insisting on safe and secure bicycle parking in all apartment buildings are examples of policies the whole township is in agreement on. I am a straightforward person; what you see is what you get. I am easy to work with. Voters should choose me because I am effective at helping local government run efficiently and creatively.

Lin: I am focused on strengthening our systems to ensure that our council is reflecting and meeting the needs of our community. On the one hand, I will prioritize the hard work of honest communication, inclusion and community building. On the other hand, I promise to bring my technical and policy-making expertise to seeking out innovative, and effective solutions to our concerns—such as those around health and wellness, land use and infrastructure and business growth.
Our slate, Progressive Vision for West Windsor, provides a balance of previous experience and fresh ideas and is focused on governing proactively, not reactively. We welcome the expertise and involvement of our talented and educated residents in coming up with new ideas to solve our problems. Most recently, we have each spoken in favor of the plastic bag ordinance being considered by council, which came out of grassroots organizing by a resident who is an environmental lawyer by day. It will reduce our unnecessary plastic use and show our community’s willingness to do what we can in light of plastic waste pollution.

Wang: Candidates should be judged by their accomplishments and their proposals’ viability for West Windsor, regardless of prior office experience. In four years, I have learned about the concerns of 2,500 West Windsor families, taken 10 infrastructure and transportation training courses at Rutgers University, and initiated/solved three West Windsor programs/problems. I introduced pavement preservation to West Windsor at Marian Drive and Dinsmore Lane; I founded the West Windsor Plastics for West Windsor Parks program; and I solved the Mews apartment complex train station shuttle noise problem.

Mandel: I have volunteered for a long time with a variety of people in town in ways that have nothing to do with politics. I approach each goal in a logical manner and with no preconceived agenda or bias. I take on projects and get things done. It’s what I do.

I am proud to be running with the team of Community Leaders for West Windsor. Mandel-Gawas-Stevens team is a truly non-partisan team of volunteers in our community who will represent the residents and not special interests and county and state officials. West Windsor government is non-partisan and we will keep it that way.

Gawas: I am not involved in partisan politics, which allows me to remain focused on vital township issues. Having served in various community leadership roles, I will be well prepared when presented with critical decisions involving the development of properties in West Windsor, especially significant ones like the WWM Properties West and Howard Hughes sites. As a longtime volunteer for the good of our community, I have always performed with transparency, accountability and integrity. I will take a similar approach as a member of the council and strive for good governance by following open and transparent procedures, basing decisions on documented research and facts.

I am part of the only non-partisan, action-oriented team with the one and only intent of representing the interests of our residents. I have not and will never raise funds or seek endorsements from political parties, corporations or unions that may try to influence a decision that is not in the residents’ best interests.

Stevens: I would say the biggest difference between the Mandel-Gawas-Stevens team and our honorable opponents is that Andrea, Sonia and I did not meet through politics, but through volunteering in West Windsor. We are truly a non-partisan ticket in today’s divisive world having combined community service of almost 50 years. We have not accepted contributions from political parties nor from builders, unions and others who would benefit from overdevelopment. The only group that we will be answering to are the residents of West Windsor. Together, we represent the diversity that makes West Windsor the community in which we have all chosen to live.

What, in your opinion, makes West Windsor a place where you want to serve?

Miller: West Windsor is an exciting place to live, having turned from a small farming community to a bustling suburb in record time. It is a diverse community, focused on education and advancement of the next generation. We also have the Princeton Junction train station and thousands of commuters who have high standards for their community. In short, it is my home, and I want to serve my home and make it an even better place, one that my children and my neighbors’ children would like to live in.

Lin: I am a second-generation Asian American who grew up in a suburban town in California, not unlike West Windsor, that also had strong public schools. My husband, Matt Weber, grew up in this area, and we have three kids who represent the fourth generation of his family being raised in a house originally built in 1958. So, while I’m a West Windsor transplant, I’ve also grown roots. I think my life experience allows me to balance respect for West Windsor’s past with excitement for innovation in our future.
My vision is to make West Windsor a town that is more than its train station and its schools. I envision a place where all our families are thriving, where there’s a cohesive “sense of community,” and where residents can and will still choose to live here after their kids are grown.

Wang: I know why I am running for West Windsor Township Council the sense of community. It is why I chose to live in West Windsor and what motivates me to serve in West Windsor. I will try to get convenient and safe alternative transportation to these shops for all residents far and close, so we all can gather at our downtown, which I hope will turn into a destination and an integral part of our lives in West Windsor in a couple of years.   

Mandel: In my 30 years in West Windsor, I have watched not only my own daughter grow up here, but countless others of so many diverse backgrounds. The people here, of all ages, love to learn new things and to share their many experiences. Every day brings new knowledge, something funny or an encounter that I never had before. It is a special place.

Gawas: I have lived in West Windsor for a little over 10 years with my husband, Ram Sarma. We have two children currently in West Windsor-Plainsboro schools. I’m passionate about our community and my volunteer record serves as a testament to that.

Stevens: I have lived in West Windsor for over 26 years with my wife, Anne. We have two daughters who graduated from our West Windsor-Plainsboro schools. Over the years, I have seen a lot of changes, but the sense of community that greeted us when we moved here is alive and flourishing today. I love our diverse community, the people who live in it, and the people who serve it.