Mark Freda, a longtime volunteer and Princeton native, has announced plans to run for the Democratic Party nomination for mayor of Princeton in 2020.
Freda served on the former Princeton Borough Council before Princeton Borough and Princeton Township consolidated in 2012. He served on the Princeton Borough Council from 1986 to 1999, including five years as its president.
Freda, who helped to lead the municipal consolidation effort, is the president of the nonprofit Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad. He began volunteering at the squad more than 40 years ago.
Freda also has been a volunteer firefighter with the Princeton Fire Department since 1974. He was the fire chief in 1989.
Freda is the first candidate to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor. Voters directly elect the mayor. The post is held by Mayor Liz Lempert, whose four-year term ends in December 2020.
Mayor Lempert has not yet announced whether she will seek a third term.
“The 2019 election has just concluded,” Lempert said. “Typically, the local campaign doesn’t start up until after the new year. This is for good reason because it allows everyone time to enjoy the holidays with their families before the next campaign begins.”
“For now, I am focused on the job I was elected to do. The end of the year is an especially busy time where we are pushing to wrap up projects from 2019 and set goals for 2020. We are transitioning to new council members and we want to make sure they start the year prepared,” Lempert said.
Freda, meanwhile, said he has been meeting with residents and business owners to gather feedback on issues impacting the town. The goal of his campaign, he said, is “true transparency and open government, promoting timely two-way communication with residents on important issues.”
Freda said he decided to run for mayor because he believes he can contribute to the community in a more “dynamic” way. He plans to draw on his professional and civic experiences, which will allow him to provide “very practical and knowledgeable leadership.”
“What happens in our town is very important to me. I am not a ‘stand on the sidelines’ person. I am a ‘Let’s get involved, work with interested parties, address and resolve issues and challenges’ type of person,” he said.
Asked about the issues facing Princeton, Freda reeled off a list of four main issues – from property taxes to transparent and timely government and improvements to the Central Business District.
“Our high property tax (is an issue),” Freda said.
He suggested exploring whether the town can work more effectively with Mercer County to leverage services, as well as reaching out to Princeton University to find more avenues for collaboration or joint planning opportunities.
“Are there further ways to improve the town’s relationship with the school board? A number of hands dip into the tax-paying pockets of our residents. We need to maximize how all of those hands work together,” Freda said.
Many residents have said they feel under-represented by the town government, Freda said. Residents should feel that the town welcomes and encourages their participation, and they deserve to be listened to, he said.
“I truly want all Princeton residents to consistently feel they have a representative government that listens to them and weighs their opinions and suggestions before making decisions,” he said.
But when decisions need to be made, town government has to make a decision and act on it, Freda said. The town has to set priorities and follow them. Government can act in a timely manner, he said.
Freda said he wants to improve communications channels available for municipal staff to provide suggestions and valuable insight, based on their experience and knowledge. He said he wants to cultivate a “true customer service attitude and culture to our residents.”
Freda also wants to tackle improvements to the Central Business District.
“I want to improve our downtown. It frequently has a dirty appearance. Efforts to change that are needed. More planning and effort between the town, downtown property owners and businesses would be an initial step,” he said.
Economic development overall is an important focus for municipal government, Freda said.
Freda grew up on Erdman Avenue and graduated from Notre Dame High School in Lawrence Township. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in public administration from The College of New Jersey.
Freda served as a vice president at Goldman Sachs and also worked as the director of the New York headquarters site operations for Pfizer. He worked as the global head of facilities and real estate for Soros Fund Management.
He was also the former Princeton Borough’s director of emergency services. He currently serves on the board of Dorothea’s House and is co-chair of the Spirit of Princeton, which sponsors the annual Memorial Day parade, the Flag Day ceremony and the Veterans Day ceremony.