New Hamilton mayor ready to take lead position in the New Year

Jeff Martin easily defeated incumbent Kelly Yaede to be elected mayor of Hamilton Township, N.J.  He was first elected in 2017 as a member of the Township Council. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Jeff Martin easily defeated incumbent Kelly Yaede to be elected mayor of Hamilton Township, N.J. He was first elected in 2017 as a member of the Township Council. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

Jeff Martin has been a resident of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, for just over five years.  On New Year’s Day, he will officially become mayor of the ninth most populous municipality in the Garden State.

“People put faith in me two years ago when they elected me to council, and gave me their faith again by electing me this past November,” said Martin, an Edison native. The 36-year-old Democrat easily defeated Republican Kelly Yaede, who was hoping to win a third term as mayor of the Mercer County community.

In 2017, Martin won his first election in 2017, to the Township Council; he became council president in January 2019. Still, he said, he wanted to see changes that needed to be made and weren’t coming fast enough.

“There had been a number of issues going on in town,” Martin said, “I realized the best way for me to be in a position to fix those issues and move the town forward was to be the mayor, which would be a full-time position versus the part-time position of town council.”

A top priority for Martin is the management of the town’s animal shelter. As council vice president, he called for an investigation in June 2018 after concerns that the number of euthanized animals was not decreasing despite an expansion of the shelter’s capacity and staff.

State law requires shelters to hold animals or offer them for adoption for seven days. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office found more than 300 animals were euthanized prematurely between 2016 and 2018, according to NJ.com.

Two people were charged in May with animal cruelty: shelter director Jeff Plunkett, who also serves as the town’s health officer, and Todd Bencivengo, a since-retired full-time animal control officer. The Trentonian reports Plunkett pleaded not guilty during a post-indictment arraignment Dec. 2.  Bencivengo was accepted into pretrial intervention in October under a deal with prosecutors.

One of Martin’s transition committees will look at how other, more successful shelters are operating, he said.

“There’s [shelters] down in Camden County; there’s ones further up north that are public shelters like what we have here in Hamilton but are operating better,” Martin said. “What I’ve tasked them to do is find out what those policies and procedures are, to make them operate better.”

Martin said he will await a final report from his committee before deciding how to operate Hamilton’s shelter.

A flowing connection

Hamilton is one of four townships served by Trenton Water Works.

Martin, who said clean drinking water is another of his top priorities, doesn’t want a repeat of last summer’s boil water advisory.

“Safe, clean drinking water is something that all residents in our town and in our state and country should be able to take for granted,” he said.

When Trenton City Council recently rejected a $12 million bond program to finance various improvements to the water system, Martin called someone he’s known for a long time —  Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora.

“I’m lucky enough to have known him already 15 years,” Martin said, “we had a working relationship beforehand, and I imagine that it‘ll only get stronger.”

He added that he reached out to Gusciora the next day and was assured that the issues that were voted down had no bearing on day-to-day operations of the Water Works.

When they met, Martin was a student at The College of New Jersey, interning in the Assembly office. Gusciora was an assemblyman representing the 15th District.

Martin said he expects they will talk more often, and may differ on things.

“Having that background and already having a strong relationship, we know it’s not personal towards each other, we each want what’s best for our respective towns or city,” Martin said.

For his part, Gusciora said he’s excited to work with Martin as a neighboring mayor and praised the former town council president as a proven leader.

“We look forward to collaborating on cross-border issues in the capital region that affect our two diverse communities,” Gusciora added.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal