Vote411.org Voter Guide
Mark Freda, Democratic Candidate for Mayor of Princeton
Under the Borough form of government, the mayoral position is characterized as a “weak mayor” because the mayor only votes when necessary to break a tie on matters before the council. What do you see as the role of the mayor, and what mayoral powers do you think are most important to being successful in the office?
Mark Freda: The mayor is the person seen as the leader of the Council and the town, and the mayor should act accordingly. Much of what the mayor does to provide leadership, to set the tone for the management of the town and to ensure robust communication with the residents and the staff happens outside of Council meetings. The mayor needs to lead by example. The powers of the mayor are really the leadership skills needed to run a professional level organization such as our town. To do so the mayor needs to be open, to be fair, to encourage discussions even when they may be difficult ones, to hold everyone to treating each other with respect during meetings and discussions. The mayor needs to be sure all voices are heard; communication is the key to good decisions. The mayor needs to move the Council and staff to make decisions and to act on those decisions in a timely manner. The mayor needs to be able to be up front with residents and staff when it is time to say we cannot do that, or we cannot afford that. When someone points out a decision, policy or process that needs to be changed, the mayor can offer advice based on deep institutional knowledge of local issues. The position of the mayor is all about doing what is best for the town and our residents; the position of mayor is leading and expecting all the elected officials and staff to do the same. The mayor is a bridge between the residents and the local government, a bridge that needs to be open to all, a bridge that serves all. To me the job when broken down to the basics is fairly simple: be open and honest, understand you are not the expert on everything, listen to others, and make the decisions that need to be made. My prior elected service reinforced that residents want to be listened to and have their thoughts/suggestions/concerns seriously considered.
What are the top issues that you want to address in the next three or four years? Please explain why these issues take priority and how you might address them.
Mark Freda: The top issue to me is communication. Ensuring the town continues to build on what has become excellent methods of communication reaching out to our residents over these few months. But the reverse is critical, easily available ways for our residents to reach out to the ‘town” to voice concerns and share ideas. This will need to be an evolving effort as the rules of social engagement continue to change. Repurposing duties of some staff to address this seems likely.
Due to a limit on how many words this answer can be, I cannot touch on all the issues facing us; but I have tried to list a number of the significant ones here.
- Housing is an issue on a number of levels. We as a town need to work to provide housing to people at many different income levels. The diversity of our population is a key part of why Princeton is so special, we need to foster and continue that diversity through our planning, zoning and housing decisions.
- We have an underserved population, people that work in many of our businesses who face challenges and whose personal situations make it hard for them to speak out and use our services. Having our staff communicate regularly to explain their rights and what services are available to them is one way to help. A number of organizations exist that help people in our community with food, financial support, and other issues. Working with them, coordinating as much as possible our municipal efforts and their efforts will work to everyone’s benefit. Current efforts related to COVID-19 relief show how well this can work.
- The well-being of our business community and further economic development are important issues that impact all of our residents. This impacts jobs, it impacts taxes, it is another key element of what makes Princeton, Princeton. We need to develop plans to grow commercial/business areas of our town to expand that percentage of our tax base. Our business district along Nassau Street and nearby streets needs to be kept clean and well maintained.
- Efforts to expand the working relationship between the Princeton School Board and school staff with the Council and town staff would continue and hopefully continue to grow.
- Working more with the Mercer County Executive, County Administrator and the County Freeholders is a goal of mine. Are we leveraging County services to the degree we can? Improving and building this relationship further is important to me.
- Another relationship to continue to build is between the town and the University. This needs to evolve into more of a partnership. A world class institution like Princeton University needs to be partnered with a town that has successful business districts, that provides quality schools, that provides quality housing at all income levels to attract staff, administrators and professors. Many of the needs and plans of the town and the University are tied to each other. Working together in ways that help each with both the common and individual goals of each is the direction I want to grow.
- Continuing and growing our community efforts in the areas of climate control and sustainability are important to me. It is impressive what we have accomplished so far; but continuing to support and grow these efforts is important. It helps all of us; but it also sends a message to others.
- There are many other issues and challenges to address. Overall, I would strive to have a process that invites any and all ideas on how to address them.
In light of the pandemic and its impact on the local economy, the 2020 municipal budget has no tax increase. What areas of the 2021 budget will, in your opinion, be impacted? How would you like Princeton to deal with these challenges?
Mark Freda: I actually did a Facebook Live presentation on this recently that people can watch. (https://www.facebook.com/markfredaforprinceton/videos/239675593799888/) To answer the question, impacts on the 2021 budget could include less state aid that we receive, the amount of surplus we are able to generate and maintain could be less, the amount of taxes we are able to collect could drop, the revenue we are able to bring in versus prior years could be less; all of these can impact what we have available to spend. Could we be faced with difficult decisions on services we now provide that may need to be cut back or dropped? Yes, there is a potential for that. Could we be looking at tax increases? Yes, we could be. The real question is, how do we handle these potential challenges? We need a long-term strategy. We need operating and capital budgets that look out at least five years. We need the discipline not to make short-term based financial decisions. We need to be willing to have very open and potentially difficult discussions on how to address what we face. There is a balance to everything. Now having said all of that, we may find the economy does come back with strong growth and the challenges may not be that severe. While that would be great, we need to be prepared if that does not happen.
Are you satisfied with the current level of openness and transparency in municipal government? If not, what steps would you suggest to improve it?
Mark Freda: My thoughts on open and transparent local government have been very consistent for a long time. I will share those here; but these are not based on how satisfied or not satisfied I am with what exists currently. On anything local government does, like anything any business does; you always look at how to improve it. The success of today lasts for today only. Starting tomorrow you work on making yesterday’s success better, that is the mentality we have to have. My approach is that we can always improve what we do and it should be a continual effort. My goal is for our residents to know that they have a way to get their message to the right people in our local government, and that our residents know they will be listened to. And that their ideas, suggestions, etc. will be seriously considered. Will we always agree, no we will not. Will every idea or suggestion be implemented, no they will not. But that is ok, we can respectfully disagree and still work together to resolve whatever the issue is. Seeking the opinions of only people that agree with you serves no purpose, the end product will not be what is really needed. The respectful back and forth of diverse ideas and viewpoints help us all learn and grow. I want our residents to see that we operate that way. It is not about “winning” the debate; it is about gathering the best information and knowledge we can prior to making a decision or setting a course of action. I have no problem changing course if that is what I should do.
Please use this space to tell voters whatever you think is important for them to know about you and your platform.
Mark Freda: Serving as mayor of Princeton is about providing leadership. Leadership is about communicating, it is about truly listening to others, it is finding the balance between exploring an issue and then acting on that issue. I’m the first to admit that I am not an expert on every topic, and listening to people that know more than me is an important part of my leadership style. Residents that are frustrated or passionate about an issue may come on strongly, that is to be expected. Part of my role is to make sure that we all get to share our thoughts in a respectful atmosphere. We can disagree during a meeting or discussion and still be friends afterwards. Neither I or the town, can be all things to all people. We need to act in the best interest of the overall community. We do not have unlimited resources, so we have to use what we do have as wisely and effectively as possible. Being mayor is about representing Princeton and doing what is best for my community. I have lived here all my life and I’m fully invested in helping our community. I look forward to meeting and talking with others who are just as invested in making Princeton a place we are all happy to call home. For more information or to reach out to me please visit my website markfredaformayor.com. I truly value speaking to all our residents and would love to hear from you.