PRINCETON, NJ—Kevin Wilkes, local business owner, community volunteer, and a member of Princeton Borough Council, has officially announced his bid to serve as the first mayor of a unified Princeton. As Mayor, Wilkes will implement consolidation’s promise of easing residents’ tax burden by continuing to streamline municipal expenses. “We passed consolidation on a promise of savings in taxes and government,” he said. “The consolidation report was conservative in its cost-saving estimates, but I believe we can create savings beyond those outlined in the report while providing the effective delivery of services that all Princetonians have come to rely on.”

As the owner of a 26-year-old business in town, Princeton Design Guild, Wilkes understands the needs of running a local business and will work to ensure the vitality of our commercial neighborhoods. “We need to sustain local businesses that serve the needs of our residents and a responsive, transparent new Princeton government is a means to achieve that.”

Wilkes enters the mayoral race with an understanding of both Princeton Township and Princeton Borough, as well as a comprehensive regional understanding that will be key to realizing the goals of consolidation. “Our two municipalities are about to undergo major changes as we combine and create one town with a much bigger population and geographic area,” he said. “I will help our community realize the goals of consolidation: a leaner and more efficient government.”

“I support Kevin Wilkes for Mayor,” said former Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman. “When Kevin was Council President, I gained enormous respect for his ability to articulate – and then lead his colleagues to implement - reasoned solutions to community needs.” 

Central elements of a Wilkes’ administration will be: working to improve the downtown quality of life; collaborate with private and in-town institutions; unify and improve Police services; preserve environmentally sensitive areas; enhance senior and youth programs; improve transportation; and create new affordable housing.

Wilkes first joined Borough Council in 2008 following the retirement of Councilwoman Wendy Benchley. Elected to a full term the following year, Wilkes has served as Council President, Police Commissioner, a member of the Finance Committee, as well as liaison to the Traffic and Transportation Committee, Human Services Commission, Recreation Board, Shade Tree Commission and Sewer Operating Committee.

“Kevin Wilkes will bring a record of accomplishment to our new government,” said Marvin Reed, former mayor of Princeton Borough. “He understands the intricacies of the largest services, but beyond that, I’ve seen his civic leadership bring our community together.”

Born in Atlanta, Wilkes and his family moved to New York City when he was just two years old. He attended Princeton University beginning in 1975. “I came to love the town then, the town was charming and historic,” he said. “I worked at McCarter Theatre as a part-time scenic painter and I got involved in the local theater scene designing sets for Summer Intime and for the Triangle Show. I purchased my first home in 1982 on the corner of Sycamore and Harrison Street in Princeton Township.”

Wilkes began working for local architect Douglas Kelbaugh in 1984 and on evenings and weekends he did construction on the side to earn some extra money to fund his own home repairs.  Having developed a clientele interested in home renovations, Wilkes, an architect, founded the Princeton Design Guild in 1986. Wilkes has also taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology School of Architecture and served as the Princeton Township Building Inspector from 1991 to 1994.

Wilkes helped spearhead the collaborative design and architectural efforts Princeton Writers Block (2004) and Quark Park (2006), located on the vacant lot now filled in by the Residences at Palmer Square. These experiences gave him a particular understanding of how to fuse vision and creativity with pragmatism and execution, particularly on the municipal level.

“I learned that good faith, original conceptual thinking, and hard work are the three things that can take an idea to physical reality. The political side of the Writers Block project entailed motivating government officials, local merchants, property owners and managers, various architects and builders, and donors to all embrace a vision of a public space in the downtown that they had never imagined before. It seemed so implausible at the outset that most people, in spite of the fact that they were skeptical, agreed to make a commitment that my friend Peter Soderman and I would deliver on our vision. But once we did, the sense of delight over this new space swept away the skepticism and brought instead an eagerness to occupy and enjoy this new public realm,” Wilkes said.

Right around the time of Writers Block, Wilkes also got involved with Princeton Future and immediately began work on the Witherspoon Street Corridor Study—before Princeton HealthCare System announced plans to build a new campus in Plainsboro. “Princeton Future seemed to embrace the goals that I believe in: collaborative visioning to plan for our community’s improvements.” Wilkes said. “It seemed logical to me to expand my thinking into creating other targeted improvements for our community besides our temporary art parks.”

While public office was not on Wilkes’s radar at the time of Writer’s Block, discussions with the late Borough Mayor Joe O’Neill allowed him to envision politics in a different light. “Mayor O’Neill was a big fan of Writer’s Block,” Wilkes says. “He likened what we achieved to political organizing.”

“In retrospect, I remember as an undergraduate at Princeton, I harbored political ambitions and I worked for the Democratic National Committee in 1976.  But I recall Mayor O’Neill’s wise encouragement that I view local government as a place to use the very skills we demonstrated in Writers Block; that local government could and should be about leadership and imagination.”

“With Mayor O’Neill’s words and values in mind and with a great deal of enthusiasm, I want to be the next Mayor of our community – New Princeton – a unified Princeton. In the months ahead, I will be walking in neighborhoods, talking with Princeton residents, listening to their concerns, building a campaign organization and sharing my vision for the future of our town.”