By Emmy Liederman
When Kate McKinley (’11) received a letter from Trenton Water Works six weeks ago that stated her water contained toxic chemicals, she began to think about the lack of transparency between local government and its residents. She then received a voting ballot in the mail and noticed that many Ewing candidates were running for office with no opposition.
As an alumna of the College and a longtime Ewing resident, she knew she had to do something to change the way her town was run, so she decided to run for town council.
The 29-year-old believes that she can contribute a fresh perspective to a group that lacks young voices. As a town council member, McKinley would attend meetings twice a month, take questions from community members and advocate for the needs of residents.
“I kind of just decided that it was something I had to do,” McKinley said. “I noticed that there was no one around my age or the student population age here on town council. I have the perspective of both student and resident.”
McKinley felt that she could not just sit back and watch Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann win without facing any competition. She teamed up with Ron Prykanowski, who is running for mayor, and Dick LaRossa, who is also running for town council. She says this partnership will allow for a more democratic voting process.
“I’m running independently, but the three of us are on the same ticket,” she said. “What makes this interesting is that I decided to run with two gentlemen that are much older than me because the mayor had absolutely no opposition for the general election in November. He would’ve won by default, and that’s unacceptable.”
Due to her former business administration major at the College and her current role as a financial reporter at Princeton University, McKinley is well-versed in budgeting. As a town council member, she hopes to reduce the salaries of certain government officials and use that money to hire a public safety director, which the town currently lacks.
“The township has no public safety director, which is kind of important,” she said. “The mayor is filling in for this role with no experience in any EMS or the education and certifications that a public safety director would have. He has a lot of power without the necessary training or experience.”
If McKinley were to be elected, she would reduce all five town council members’ annual salaries from $12,000 to $2,000 and the mayor’s salary from $50,000 to $30,000. This would leave room in the budget for a public safety director salary, allowing the government to fund an additional position without increasing the budget.
As a member of the town council, McKinley would also work to strengthen contact between the police department, residents and the College community. She cites how the town was notified of the shooting of resident Devon Green that took place just a few blocks away from the College last October as an example of poor communication.
“That information needed to get to the students and residents a lot faster than it did,” McKinley said. “There needs to be better communication channels and more transparency between the mayor, residents and students.”
As for Trenton Water Works, McKinley is appalled that residents only receive notifications about toxins in their drinking water after the problems are solved.
“Trenton Water Works is way understaffed and there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be replaced,” she said. “It’s old and it’s been leaking toxins into the water source. As a resident, I think I’ve received four or five letters saying the water is fine now, but telling me about past issue I didn’t know about. TCNJ kids are drinking it. The main reason I’m running is for public safety.”
McKinley also hopes to increase tax revenue by encouraging the development of more local businesses, which would help students at the College secure more job opportunities.
“We’re looking for businesses with long term viability, which will help TCNJ students in the long run with internships and jobs,” she said. “My main goal would be to increase tax revenue without increasing the actual residential population. If you increase the population, you put a burden on the police, the fire department and the schools.”
McKinley recognizes the potential for local government to eventually make changes on a larger scale. She encourages students to get involved as much as possible and advocate for their beliefs.
“I think local government is the most important focus for everyone right now,” she said. “The change is never going to come from the top — the change comes from the bottom. The more voices you have at the bottom pushing up, the more tension on the person at the top to change.”
She encourages young people like herself to educate themselves on the community’s needs and try to take matters into their own hands.
“Always be an active listener and understand why people are passionate about something,” she said. “If you share that passion, find a practical, polished way to be an advocate for it.”