By Danielle Ray, Senior Reporter
Longtime Princeton resident Harry Pape has dedicated over three decades to his role as Town Moderator, serving the town and its residents in this capacity since he was recruited by then moderator Bruce Bennett to run as his successor in 1989.
“He had become publisher of the T&G and felt he would have a conflict of interest,” Pape said of his predecessor. “Bruce said it was the best job in town government – you only work one night a year, and nobody asks you to do anything else of consequence because you have to remain impartial.”
Pape has run unopposed since then.
“I like to say I’m only in it for the money,” he joked. “$25 a year, but the take home amount is less after taxes, etc.”
Pape and his wife Wendy both grew up in Northern New Jersey, and after college he was stationed in Los Angeles for the Air Force and then at Hanscom Air Force Base. The couple first lived in Chelmsford when they relocated to the area and then moved to Princeton with their two sons in January 1981.
“We bought the home of our dreams, a 250-year-old post and beam farmhouse on 25 acres and enjoy the history and all the opportunities this area provides for a wide range of activities,” Pape said.
Not being native New Englanders, Pape said the concept of Town Meeting was new to them when they first arrived. They started participating in it and then Bennett stepped in – the rest is history.
“I have always viewed my job as facilitating the process of having the assembled voters reach a decision on each item of business,” Pape said. “To do that requires ensuring open debate and a fair mechanism to get to a vote, and the moderator has to remain impartial or else the event is tainted. Challenges usually revolve around conflicting or incomplete information, and the understandable enthusiasm partisans bring to the discussion.”
Select Board Chair Karen Cruise said the Town Moderator plays “a very important role in town government” running the annual town meeting and keeping it moving along.
“Though Harry is quick with a joke, or one year a song, he takes his role very seriously,” Cruise said. “He is careful to make sure that the correct process is followed so that no votes can be contested. He does his best to let people be heard but to also keep the meeting moving forward. Princeton is lucky to have such a dedicated person in this role.”
Pape said that by far the greatest changes they have seen in the town meeting form of government have taken place just over the past few years “as internet technologies have transformed how we communicate.”
“The pandemic has reinforced this in profound ways, with remote or virtual meetings, electronic voting, and social media,” he said. “We see fewer yard signs and more Nextdoor posts.”
Pape said it has been his pleasure to serve as Town Moderator, his “contribution to making our town work.”
“Presiding over the legislative branch of local government has been a privilege, and I can say that I truly enjoy moderating the give and take that is the essence of pure democracy,” he said. “My hope has been and remains that the institution of open Town Meeting can be sustained as a viable form of local governance, even as our world changes around us.”
By Danielle Ray, Senior Reporter