Kelly Yaede will have more opposition than usual in June’s primary race for mayor of Hamilton Township.
There was little surprise when the two-term mayor was the Hamilton Township Republican Commitee’s unanimous choice to run again when the committee held its convention in March.
However, Yaede does not have the support of the Mercer County Republican Committee, chaired by Hamilton resident Lisa Richford. The county committee has endorsed vocal gadfly David Henderson as its mayoral candidate, setting up a primary battle to be contested in June.
Richford surprised the Yaede campaign when she submitted an alternate ticket of Henderson, along with council candidates Cynthia Simon and William Argust, to take the Regular Organization Republican party line on the primary ballot.
The Mercer County GOP has expressed dismay regarding Yaede’s township council running mates of Richard Balgowan and another well known gadfly, Vinnie Capodanno. Capodanno has previously served as a Democratic member of council, and Balgowan was director of public works under former Democratic mayor Glen D. Gilmore.
“It is farcical to Republicans everywhere that the Hamilton Township Republican Committee have made Democrats their partners this year,” the county committee wrote in an April media release.
County clerk Paula Sollami-Covello, in a letter to Richford and Yaede campaign manager Dan Scharfenberger, explained that the party line slate is the purview of the county chair and that Richford’s submission would take precedence. The party line will appear first on the ballot, and is thus considered the more desirable position.
On April 9, township committee chair Dennis Pone, along with former state senator Peter Inverso, former township mayor Jack Rafferty and former county executive Bob Prunetti, among others, stood in front of the Hamilton Township Municipal Building and called for Richford’s resignation.
In its coverage of the press conference, The Trentonian reported that outgoing Republican council member Iliana Schirmer called the assembled men “has-beens” and said they did not represent the majority of the township committee.
For his part, Pone told The Trentonian that the committee voted 68-0 to nominate Yaede at the convention and that no other candidates were nominated. He also remarked that Richford did not attend the township convention, although she had been invited.
Henderson managed the campaign for a dark horse school board ticket of Simon, Sherry Morency and Richard C. Crockett III last fall. He has never held public office. None of Simon, Morency or Crockett was elected to Hamilton Township Board of Education.
In addition to Argust, Balgowan, Capodanno and Simon, there is another council candidate for the two Republican spots: longtime Board of Education member Tony Celentano. Henderson has connections to Celentano, as well, including working together to form Pace Charter School in the 1990s.
On the Democratic side, council president Jeff Martin is set to be the candidate for mayor in November’s election. Nancy Phillips and Pat Papero, who are running for council on the same slate as Martin, face a primary challenge from JoAnne Bruno. Bruno ran for council as a Democrat in 2015, falling 500 votes shy of victory.
Primary elections will be held on June 4.