One Sunday afternoon last fall I answered a knock on the door of my house in downtown Princeton and encountered a pleasant woman named Linda Sipprelle. She was going to door to door asking for votes in her race for a seat on the Princeton Borough Council.
She was a Republican, I discovered, and I wished her lots of luck. A few days later I was in the voting booth and I cast a ballot for her — not because I agreed with anything in particular she had said but simply because she was a Republican, an endangered species in our community. If you believe in the two-party political system, then you might worry about Princeton Borough, which has not seen a Republican on Council since 1991. Sipprelle kept the Republican flame alive but still lost, receiving less than half as many votes as either of her two Democratic opponents.
Now another Sipprelle, Scott Sipprelle, has shown up on the political scene. He, too, is a Republican trying to win a race in a heavily Democratic district — the 12th Congressional district represented since 1999 by Rush Holt. Sipprelle, who turns 48 this month, is a Princeton-based investment fund manager whose Wall Street experience included a stint at Morgan Stanley, where he became a managing director in the equity capital markets division by age 32. He is also the son of my Sunday afternoon visitor, Linda Sipprelle.
So I wondered: If I voted for the mother, just because she was a Republican, might I also vote for the son, even though he is a Republican?
In case it’s not obvious, I’m a little disappointed with the Republicans in Washington. They have not been constructive critics; they have been destructive. They have kowtowed to the radical fringe and their political litmus tests. They have condemned the Democrats for “tax and spend” policies, when in fact the greatest budget deficits have been recorded under Republican presidents — perhaps the GOP should be described as the “spend and spend” party.
I caught up with Scott Sipprelle for a phone interview in which I hoped to answer two questions: 1.) What’s in the Sipprelle family water that causes a mother and son to run for office within a few months of each other? 2.) Is this guy one of those right-wing nuts or what?
Scott Sipprelle cites some blue-collar roots. His grandfather emigrated from Canada to California to pick vegetables. His father, Dudley, was a schoolteacher who later joined the foreign service; his mother, Linda, also was in the foreign service. Scott spent his childhood traveling around the world. After majoring in economics at Hamilton College in upstate New York, Class of 1985, Sipprelle went to Wall Street.
He later started his own investment firm and moved to Princeton with his wife (Tracy, whom he met at Hamilton) and three kids (the eldest is now a student at Hamilton). His current firm is called Westland Ventures, echoing the name of Grover Cleveland’s former home in the western section of Princeton, where the Sipprelles now live. (He is a lead investor in the Bank of Princeton.) Along the way Scott’s parents moved to Princeton, as well. Before Linda took the long shot at Borough Council, Dudley did the same — with the same predictable result.
On to the second question: Is Scott Sipprelle a right-wing nut? I had a short list of questions: Where did he stand on the Supreme Court’s free speech ruling, don’t ask, don’t tell, healthcare reform, the stimulus plan, and Roe v. Wade.
Unlike the professional political correspondents — people like Chris Matthews, David Gregory (and before him Tim Russert) — I was easily dodged by Sipprelle. “I intend to promote a mainstream agenda for economic recovery,” he responded. “Regardless of the issues that you view as important, a country that is bankrupt can do nothing.” His interest in public service goes back to his days at Hamilton, when he spent time in Washington as an intern for California Republican Senator Pete Wilson. “As I watched the partisan divide develop in recent years I became frustrated like many other Americans.”
He refers to “deficit spending by both parties over the last 10 years” and asserts that “the country’s in bad shape financially. I think I have something to add — experience in managing a businesss, in hiring, in making businesses work. It’s time to apply some lessons from the real world to the bubble we call politics.”
Anticipating possible attacks on him as a member of the Wall Street crowd, Sipprelle says that “long before it became politically popular to do so, I publicly criticized the governance problems and excesses that contributed to the financial collapse.”
I tried again to turn the conversation to the incendiary, litmus test issues of the Republican far right. Sipprelle did another sidestep: “I don’t think stringent litmus tests are good for our party or for our country. I say that you should evaluate a candidate holistically — there’s no reason why you have to agree with someone on every position in order to vote for them.”
In fact, if you are used to the Tea Party crowd and town hall hecklers that are often the face of Republicans on the national news shows, you might be surprised to find some close to home who don’t fit the mold. In the waning days of the Corzine administration, the governor tried to push through a gay marriage bill. It was defeated, with all Republicans voting against it except Senator Bill Baroni from Hamilton Township. And Baroni, in turn, originally supported Fair Haven mayor Michael Halfacre for the Republican nomination, but then switched his support to Sipprelle in the June 8 primary.
Given the success of Republican Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and given that Scott Sipprelle has already contributed $250,000 to his own campaign and planned to match the first $1 million in donations from supporters, he should not be taken lightly.
To win in this district he will need votes from lots of independents and Democrats — people he deals with all the time in Princeton Borough. “I have happily lived here for the past eight or nine years,” he says. “I have lots of friends with different points of view. I wouldn’t be doing this unless I thought I could win votes in a place like Princeton. I don’t think I’m a nut.”