Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Republican Kelly Yaede and Democrat Jeff Martin.
Changes are coming to town hall, with Democrats sweeping Hamilton Township municipal races on Election Day 2019.
The biggest change will be in the mayor’s office, where challenger Jeff Martin won a four-year term handily. The current council president defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Yaede by 12 percentage points, and will be the town’s first Democratic mayor since Glen Gilmore lost a re-election bid in November 2007.
Martin will have an all-Democratic council to work with, after partymates Pat Papero and Nancy Phillips (12,888 votes and 12,480, respectively) beat Republican candidates Rich Balgowan (9,320 votes) and Vinnie Capodanno (9,125) in the race for Hamilton Township Council. Papero and Phillips will join Rick Tighe, Anthony Carabelli and whoever the Democrats appoint to take Martin’s seat on the governing body. It’s the first time in 15 years the Democrats have held the five seats on council and the mayor’s office.
Martin, in an interview with the Hamilton Post Nov. 6, said he plans to remain on council for the rest of 2019, resigning on Dec. 31. He would be sworn in as mayor the following day, Jan. 1, 2020.
Martin, in an open letter to Hamiltonians, said his administration’s priorities when taking office Jan. 1 will be to ensure Trenton Water Works provides clean drinking water, to consolidate the township’s fire districts into a municipal fire department, to redevelop blighted and abandoned properties and to focus on stabilizing property taxes.
The mayor-elect also thanked residents for their support and enthusiasm, saying Hamilton had one of the highest voter participation rates in New Jersey Nov. 5.
The turnout—while low countywide—dwarfed the response the last time Yaede ran in 2015. Nearly 5,500 more votes were cast in this year’s race between Martin and Yaede. That’s an increase of 31 percent.
Voters’ interest was unsurprising, though, considering the race had been building for nearly a year, and turned nasty during the last half of 2019.
In May, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office charged two township employees with animal cruelty after an investigation into the township animal shelter. The township council launched its own investigation into the animal shelter, issuing a 43-page report that depicted a facility run without rules or oversight.
This past June, Yaede faced the first primary challenge of her political career—a fierce campaign that ended with Yaede easily defeating David Henderson at the polls. The win only came after Yaede had been forsaken by the county Republican Party—which named Henderson its official candidate—forcing the incumbent mayor to run in the primary essentially as a challenger.
In early September, the MCPO revealed it had slapped Yaede with charges of her own, a disorderly person offense stemming from the release of Henderson’s expunged arrest record. Yaede fought the charges, and a municipal judge cleared Yaede Sept. 20.
Yaede waged a mudslinging campaign of her own, painting Martin as an inexperienced carpetbagger and a minion of Gov. Phil Murphy. Meanwhile, Martin stayed low-key, emphasizing the need for new leadership in town.
Voters apparently didn’t buy Yaede’s claims on Election Day. As the results came in late Nov. 5, Yaede extended an olive branch in a statement posted on her Facebook page.
“I am grateful to the residents of Hamilton Township for giving me the opportunity to represent and serve them,” Yaede’s statement said. “I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished during my tenure. Being the Mayor of this outstanding community has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
“I extend my best wishes to Jeff Martin and look forward to working with him for a smooth transition while asking every member of our community to come together for the greater good of Hamilton Township.”
Yaede, in an interview with the Hamilton Post Nov. 6, said that her administration has done “great work in the township” and that she stands by her record as mayor. She chalked up her defeat to the fact that Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in the township.
To that end, she said that she will continue to be involved in the community and in politics, weighing in on issues and promoting the Republican platform. She said her goal is to be a “social media influencer” in town, using her reach on sites like Facebook to be engaged and encourage others to follow her lead.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
With the win, Martin is now 2-for-2 in runs for elected office. He won election in November 2017, one of three Democratic councilmen to be elected in a municipal Blue Wave that wiped out a decade-long Republican stranglehold on municipal government. It was Martin’s first run for elected office, as it was for his running mates Carabelli and Tighe.
He now begins planning the transition to the mayor’s office. Martin told the Hamilton Post that he will gradually roll out his transition team, with announcements most likely beginning the week of Nov. 11.
“I’m going to work hard every day to make Hamilton better,” he said.
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In the Hamilton Township Board of Education race, incumbents Pamela Kelly and Dina Thornton led the field, with newcomer Jason McSheene winning the third open seat on the board. All three won three-year terms.