Mayor Kelly Yaede easily saw off the challenge of primary challenger David Henderson.

Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede hasn’t had the easiest start to 2019, but she finally got some good news after the polls closed at 8 p.m. last night: she had soundly beaten her challenger, David Henderson, in the Republican primary race.

Unofficial results have Yaede (2,604 votes) nearly doubling up Henderson’s vote tally of 1,397. Yaede won 65 percent of the vote compared to Henderson’s 34.87 percent — a landslide by any measure.

Yaede’s council slate of Richard Balgowan (2,061 votes) and Vinnie Capodanno (2,170) also came close to doubling up Henderson’s running mates, Cynthia Simon (1,228) and Bill Argust (1,121). School board member Tony Celentano, also running for council, pulled in 832 votes.

Hamilton Township Council president Jeff Martin ran unopposed in the township’s Democratic primary for mayor, and will battle against Yaede in November along with his council running mates Pat Papero and Nancy Phillips. Papero (1,648 votes) and Phillips (1,858) defeated Democrat JoAnne Bruno (930 votes), who also ran for council.

The Yaede campaign livestreamed victory speeches by township economic development director Marty Flynn, township committee chair Dennis Pone and Yaede after the election result was beyond doubt. All three evinced a siege mentality as they took turns at the podium after a contentious and chaotic campaign that saw two of Yaede’s staffers charged with animal cruelty, including the township’s director of health, Jeff Plunkett.

Yaede also saw the two sitting Republican council members, Ralph Mastrangelo and Ilieana Schirmer, decline to run again. Schirmer has been particularly vocal in her opposition to Yaede, endorsing Henderson and telling Community News that Yaede had attempted to obstruct council’s subcommittee that investigated claims made against the animal shelter. Schirmer was on the subcommittee.

The Yaede campaign also took a blow when the Mercer County Republican Committee backed Henderson, placing him in Column A on the primary ballot.

Last fall, Henderson was the campaign manager for school board candidates Richard C. Crockett III and Sherry Morency. This website reported on a number of racist and Islamophobic posts made to the candidates’ Facebook pages.

The candidates denied that they were racist and in some cases, denied making the posts, even though they appeared on their personal pages.

In May, The Trentonian reported on accusations made by a resident directly against Henderson for “racist, Islamophobic posts.” (Site is paywall protected.)

David Henderson, right, with Robbinsville mayor Dave Fried and former Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin at the Mercer County Republican Convention, March 15, 2019.

Henderson also saw publicized an 18-year old domestic violence charge that had been dismissed and expunged. Henderson alleges that the Yaede campaign is behind the release of the police reports and says the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is looking into the matter. (The prosecutor’s office has declined to comment.)

Pone, who spoke before Yaede, pledged that the campaign would be different now that the primary is over and Henderson is defeated.

“Tonight ends the ugliness,” he said. “Tonight ends all the things that we’ve had to put up with in this primary campaign. But tonight is a wonderful wonderful wonderful day for Hamilton Township. Hamilton Township said, ‘That’s not who we are.’ Hamilton Township said, ‘Our values are with the Yaedes and the Yaede administration.’ What the Yaedes have gone through, their family, what we have gone through, our families, should never happen in politics. It’s why sometimes good people don’t want to run for office. But the people of Hamilton Township came tonight and today and they said ‘no’ to the ugliness, they said ‘no’ to the attacks.”

Despite Pone’s assurances, Yaede was clearly in attack mode just a few moments later when she spoke. After thanking her supporters and congratulating her running mates, she made more vague and yet-unsubstantiated claims about both Henderson and the Democratic mayoral candidate, council president Jeff Martin.

About Henderson she said: “This was a sham campaign of somebody that was put up to detract and to deflect and to keep us from lowering taxes and for focusing on what we need to focus on.”

She also doubled down on her claims that Democrat Jeff Martin is Gov. Phil Murphy’s hand-picked choice to lead Hamilton and that if Martin is elected, Murphy will “run everything in this town.”

“Our real opponent was not Mr. Henderson. Our real opponent is Jeff Martin, a political appointee by Gov. Murphy without outside money coming in to take away Hamilton’s values and we will not let them,” Yaede said.

Henderson, usually extremely active on Facebook, has posted less frequently in recent days, or has been posting privately. He spoke to The Trentonian after his defeat, making some vague claims of his own.

“She’s corrupt and I doubt she’s going to make it to the ballot in November,” he told the Trentonian, possibly alluding to the charges against Plunkett and former shelter supervisor Todd Bencivengo.

The Mercer County Republican Committee posted a short message on its page this morning: “Congratulations to all, onto (sic) November.”