It’s one challenge to be a Republican in Plainsboro running for a seat on the Township Committee. It’s another kind of challenge to run against Peter Cantu, the longtime mayor who has served on the committee for 37 years.
None of that dims the enthusiasm of challenger Krishna Jagannathan, 26 (turning 27 on November 1), and a resident of the Aspen community, where he is president of the homeowners association. A Rutgers graduate with a degree in ecology and natural resources, he now works at the Edison Job Corps Academy.
Jagannathan says he has knocked on close to 1,000 doors in Plainsboro so far, and one recurring theme is that people are ready for change. He attributes this to the serious shift in economic momentum from the 1990s “when money grew on trees and was attainable through grants or bonds.”
“There is a small amount of property taxes controlled entirely by the township committee and I’ve seen no interest in them decreasing property taxes or maintaining the status quo. Everything is touted as we are only increasing it by a little bit, not that we’re maintaining what we have or decreasing it at all.”
Jagannathan believes that the town can do more to assist Plainsboro-based businesses and that the recent ordinance supporting “open for business” signs should not have taken three years to get implemented. He cites the owners of Aljon’s restaurant, who were told by the township that they would have to talk to the landlord and the landlord who said the township won’t approve it.
Another element of Jagannathan’s campaign is his belief that he better reflects current residents of Plainsboro, not only as an educated young professional but as a person who resides in an apartment. Jagannathan points out that no member of the current committee lives in an apartment or condo complex, even though many people in Plainsboro do.
Given that Plainsboro has the second highest concentration of Indian residents in the state behind Edison, Jagannathan believes his Indian roots can be a positive force in his campaign.
His parents came to the U.S. in 1979, and Jagannathan was born at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick in 1984. His father has worked in IT management throughout his career, including stints with AT&T and IBM. His mother started as a research assistant and worked her way up to a professor’s chair at Rutgers’ Bloustein School.
“I don’t think I want to play my ethnicity as a factor in who to vote for,” he says, “but it’s time our committee be more in line with the actual population in Plainsboro. We don’t see any other Asian candidates who are willing to step forward, and I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or because they tend to be so busy.”
“I think one of the challenges we’ve had in the community is assimilating. Growing up I had the choice of assimilating or embracing my culture, and ideally you want to strike a balance and embrace your heritage and history, but at the same time be accepted and do things with your friends that are more easily attainable, such as learning about American culture versus watching Bollywood movies.”
Jagannathan says he’s not interested in being a career politician. Jagannathan most admires Township Committee member Narun Nabi, who he says has done an excellent job in representing South Asians although “he could use the help” of another representative.
He also expresses his respect for Cantu. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s done a lot for the community and he brought Plainsboro from a rural outskirt of Princeton to where we are today with businesses bustling in a sub-metropolitan area. We will now be hosting one of the largest hospitals in the state. We’re home to one of the best libraries in the country, too,” he says.
If elected Jagannathan may draw on some of the organizational skills he acquired while observing his mother’s research work. He credits the effort he put in working alongside his mom as a foundation for excelling in school. “Dealing with the ground-level research, watching how she wrote papers and how she outlined things went a long way,” he says. Jagannathan adds that his mother taught him to never be petty and always look after others who may not be as fortunate as he is.