Electrical engineer Hemant Marathe won West Windsor, New Jersey's mayoral race Nov. 7, becoming the first Indian American mayor of the small town.
Marathe took 3,327 votes, or 48 percent, beating out fellow Indian American Kamal Khanna, who came in second place with 31 percent of the votes; and Yan Mei Wang, who captured 20 percent. Khanna had received the endorsement of outgoing Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh.
Marathe, who has lived in West Windsor since 1994, is a familiar figure in the small, suburban town’s political scene: he served 12 years on the school board – nine as president – and then ascended to the City Council last year. He has also served as council liaison to the Affordable Housing Committee, Zoning Board, and the Parking Authority.
“I was very thankful that people voted on the issues facing our community, rather than party labels,” Marathe told India-West. “I am honored that they paid attention to our content.”
West Windsor is a small town, with a population of about 30,000. More than half of its residents are Asian American. Marathe characterized the town as “very diverse.”
The mayoral seat in West Windsor is non-partisan; Marathe claimed that his opponents nevertheless campaigned on partisan politics. He ran with a slate of council candidates, incumbent Linda Geevers and Virginia Manzari. “We followed the dictum that all politics are local,” said the mayor-elect.
One of the biggest issues for Marathe’s slate was a 658-acre parcel belonging to the Howard Hughes Corporation, which is slated for residential development. The Dadar, Mumbai, native, and an alumnus of IIT Bombay who earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington, noted that the proposed development would add 1,976 apartments and houses to the small town, increasing its population by 20 percent.
“It would change the character of West Windsor,” he told India-West, adding that the project would also add an estimated 2,000 children to the town’s schools, which are already at capacity.
On their campaign Web site, Marathe, Geevers, and Marziani unequivocally stated their opposition to zoning the HHC parcel for residential housing. They also stated their opposition to court-mandated affordable housing.
“While it is unclear how the courts will rule, the required number of new housing units could be in the thousands. Our team believes this potential burden is unwarranted because West Windsor has managed its affordable housing commitment responsibly and has always met its obligation. We pledge to use all available means to stop developers who want to use affordable housing to benefit themselves financially at the expense of West Windsor taxpayers,” wrote Marathe and the slate.
Marathe wants the property to be developed for commercial use – as it is currently zoned for – including office space, research labs, and manufacturing use. He noted that building the HHC development in this manner would add commercial taxes to the city’s coffers, and reduce the tax burden on its residents. “Property taxes in New Jersey are very high,” he added.
The new mayor noted that the property was ideally located for commercial development, as it is 37 minutes away by train to Philadelphia, and 57 minutes away by railway to Manhattan, New York. Princeton Junction, the closest railway, is one of the busiest stations on the East Coast, he said. Princeton University is about four miles away.
Marathe and the slate also campaigned on fixing the infrastructure of West Windsor. Trees planted long ago are now bringing up their roots, making sidewalks uneven and dangerous to walk on at night. Marathe hopes to tackle this issue sustainably, as well as fixing pothole-rutted roads.
“I love this town,” said the mayor, adding that he has never lived anywhere else for so long. Marathe said he got involved in school board politics when his four daughters attended local schools.
“There are a lot of Indians getting involved in politics now. But there are a lot more that are not.”
“We must look at issues from a neutral point of view, and vote for the best candidate, rather than a party’s label,” he said.
The post has no term limits, but Marathe laughingly told India-West he is not thinking beyond his first term.