What a difference a mandate makes.
Three months after winning re-election by 21 percentage points, Hamilton mayor Kelly Yaede delivered the 2014 State of the Township address with the air of someone secure in her position. She joked. She held a dog. She compared herself to Santa Claus.
And, she promised, she’s only getting started.
“Our work isn’t finished, and it never should be for an elected official,” Yaede said.
Gone was the cautious-yet-encouraging tone that surrounded Yaede’s address last year. On Feb. 11, Yaede seemed pleased with what her administration had accomplished in its first year, as were many of the people in attendance. Several hundred people filled a room at the Stone Terrace for the Hamilton chapter of the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual event, eager to give the mayor applause.
If 2013’s State of the Township—Yaede’s first—was a pep talk, this year’s was a post-game victory speech.
Yaede revisited many of the talking points that scored township Republicans an Election Day sweep last November—an occurrence party members called a mandate at the time. Yaede presented the township’s economic development and new public safety measures as evidence she has Hamilton headed in a positive direction.
On the economic front, Yaede touted the announcement that Dynamic Marketing and Salvona Technologies will move operations to Hamilton. Dynamic Marketing, which purchases electronics and appliances for small retailers to sell, is based in Brooklyn, N.Y. currently. Salvona Technologies, a cosmetics manufacturer, plans to relocate from its headquarters in Dayton.
Joining the firms in Hamilton could be two new hotels—a Homewood Suites and a Residence Inn—and two WaWa gas stations, one on U.S. 130 and one on Route 33. To further entice new businesses, the township will expand its online permitting system to include simple construction permits for building, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and fire inspections.
For existing businesses, the township has updated zoning requirements in an effort to encourage developers to renovate their commercial properties, in much the manner of the recently refreshed Hamilton Plaza on Route 33. All in all, Yaede said decisions like streamlining regulations have bolstered the township’s economic health.
“All you have to do is drive down Route 33 to see we are doing it,” Yaede said.
Much of her address was devoted to public safety, though, and Yaede had statistics to back her argument. A late January report disclosed the crime rate in Hamilton fell 5 percent last year. Yaede credited efforts like hiring 16 new police officers, switching to 12-hour patrol shifts and increased emphasis on analyzing crime statistics as the difference.
The administration—hoping to keep crime numbers trending down—has moved its focus to improving the police division’s relationship with the public.
Yaede announced a new program to enhance police communication with residents that will use an updated website and new accounts on social media websites Facebook and Twitter. Yaede said the additional tools will help the police keep residents safe.
“If you are not on social media, you are behind,” she added.
The announcement signaled a slight change of heart by the administration. In November 2013, Yaede disagreed with a question in a Hamilton Post questionnaire suggesting police could use social media and increased dialogue with the public to fight crime, in part saying, “Just because the HTPD does not release every bit of information or does not provide minute-by-minute updates does not mean that there is an issue with communication … Taking criminals off the street should be the HTPD’s number one priority; not updating Facebook and Twitter minute-by-minute.”
During her Feb. 11 address, Yaede also said the township has reached out to the federal Department of Justice for assistance, at the suggestion of President Obama. She asked the president about public safety during a January forum with the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.
Aside from the two major areas, Yaede’s speech checked off each of the administration’s feats in the past year. She mentioned the government’s move to cut $1-million from its spending, decreasing expenditures to below 2011 levels and allowing the township to offer a 2013 budget with no tax increase. She touted her visits to all 17 of the township’s public elementary schools, and shared a story where she shocked a young girl by remembering where the student went to school. The exchange led the girl’s mother to suggest the mayor was more omniscient than Santa Claus, Yaede said.
In another first, Yaede recruited a dog from the township animal shelter to help her celebrate news that the shelter will be expanded this year. Township animal control officer Todd Bencivengo brought the small dog, named Duke, in a side door and up to the lectern where Yaede spoke, to the “awws” of those assembled.
“I assure you, Duke, no one is looking at me,” Yaede said.
The Duke interaction perhaps best exemplified the lighthearted and confident address delivered by Yaede. She even veered from her scripted speech at one point to encourage former mayor Jack Rafferty to adopt a dog from the animal shelter. After ensuring Yaede cleared it with his wife, Rafferty jokingly stood up and bid $100 for the dog in Yaede’s arms, to the laughter of the crowd.
In her speech, even with the ease she ad-libbed jokes, Yaede portrayed herself as a mayor in command. Yet, she did allow that even she had no control over the weather, and begged for understanding and patience when it comes to snow removal.
She stopped short of admitting her administration hasn’t met public expectations when it comes to plowing—calling this winter “unprecedented”—but said some residents have phoned her to voice their displeasure.
“Hamiltonians do not hesitate to call their mayor and tell me where to put it,” Yaede said.