Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki re-elected, whereas others see shake-up
Wilmington mayor Mike Purzycki said accusations he didn’t care about poor people were “an easy card to play” and a “total fraud.”
Delaware News Journal
Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki won a second term Tuesday night, defeating two challengers who both promoted a more populist message.
The victory for the incumbent, who has overseen growth in the city’s business districts but was accused of doing so at the expense of the city’s poor, was won with the highest share of votes in a Wilmington mayoral primary since 2008.
Purzycki got 6,133 votes – 42.9% of the total – as compared with City Treasurer Velda Jones-Potter’s 5,094 votes (35.6% of the total) and former City Councilman Justen Wright’s 3,075 votes (21.5% of the total).
The City Council will be led by Trippi Congo, who ousted Purzycki ally Hanifa Shabazz with 53.2% of the vote. Congo is a Jones-Potter ally who was part of a faction of the City Council engaged in a yearslong power struggle against Shabazz and other supporters of Purzycki’s proposals.
Several of the most vocal members of that faction were not reelected or elected to a higher office.
Wilmington mayor Mike Purzycki delivers a victory address after winning the Democratic party primary in his reelection bid Tuesday night at Constitution Yards. (Photo: William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal)
“The first time you run, you’re just running on promises,” Purzycki said in a victory speech Tuesday night thanking supporters and voters at the Wilmington Riverfront. “The second time you’re saying, here’s what I’ve done for four years so rejection would feel really personal. … Voters said, ‘We like what you’ve done.'”
He also congratulated Jones-Potter and Wright on “well-run” campaigns.
The primary election was the culmination of nearly four contentious years in city politics, during which lines drawn early between the two factions only intensified over time and materialized into opposing slates of primary candidates.
BACKGROUND: Wilmington’s next mayor may need only about 4,000 votes to win
During their terms, Purzycki even sued Jones-Potter in a dispute over her authorities as treasurer. She filed counterclaims, arguing her powers are independent of the mayor’s. The parties are now attempting to settle the case out of court.
Succeeding Jones-Potter as treasurer will be Purzycki administration economic development official DaWayne Sims, who got 53.8% of votes to beat City Councilman and Purzycki critic Vash Turner.
DaWayne Sims speaks after winning the Democratic primary for Wilmington city treasurer Tuesday at Constitution Yards. (Photo: William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal)
City politicians’ conflicts while in office fueled a race that saw Wilmington portrayed as “a tale of two cities.”
While Purzycki touted growth and improvements made over the past four years, his opponents ran on slogans of “people over property,” promising to prioritize the city’s working- and middle-class neighborhoods above a rebounding downtown and a gleaming Riverfront commercial district.
“Everything I’ve heard says that the people of Wilmington are ready for change,” Jones-Potter said after voting at the Delaware School of Music just before noon Tuesday. She would have been the first woman to be mayor.
Neither Jones-Potter’s nor Wright’s campaigns could immediately be reached for comment late Tuesday night.
Both Purzycki opponents entered the race the week of the campaign filing deadline this year, while the mayor began seeking donations nearly two years ago. He built up a campaign war chest backed by significant contributions from banks, real estate developers and business groups across northern Delaware.
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Though many votes in the primary were cast by mail before Tuesday, campaign supporters and a steady stream of in-person voters kept Wilmington polling places lively. Music blasted for dancing volunteers at P.S. du Pont Middle School, one of the busiest polling places in the state – especially for Democrats.
Wilmington mayoral candidate Velda Jones-Potter greets voters at Harlan Elementary School Tuesday. (Photo: William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal)
Purzycki will enter his second term with a more grim picture in the city, where calls for additional social services in impoverished neighborhoods may clash with a tighter budget due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Several residents told Delaware Online/The News Journal before and during election day that rising violent crime was their most pressing concern.
“It don’t matter the candidate, as long as they help fight crime … if nothing else,” said 42-year-old Yvette Johnson, watching her son play basketball at Helen Chambers Park in West Center City last week. “We just need desperate help.”
Johnson, who lives near Maryland Avenue in the city’s southwest corner, said she’s afraid to let her children outside and is distressed by the lack of a large, central place for youth to find activities in her neighborhood, a concern echoed by many throughout the city.
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In a victory speech to supporters at the Riverfront on Tuesday night, Purzycki said he would push for fewer people charged with gun crimes to be released. He said he and Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy have discussed the “pandemic of violence” with Attorney General Kathleen Jennings and that they were “all aligned.”
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Both of the challengers’ platforms revolved around proposals for the city to more directly address social service needs – which are largely handled by the state – in the city’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and to focus resources on first-time homebuyers.
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Purzycki, meanwhile, pushed for the passage of his controversial “blight bill,” which would impose fines on the owners of vacant houses and landlords of dilapidated rental units, to improve the city’s housing stock.
He said his administration has invested in neighborhood improvements and blamed a dysfunctional City Council for hindering further progress — a dynamic between the administration and the legislative body that could continue.
Whether the blight bill can pass will depend on how Congo runs the City Council. But at his victory party, Purzycki said he has “a really fine council to work with.”
“There will be a few challenges, but it’s a much better place,” he said. “A lot of the people I characterize as ‘the Resistance’ … are gone.”
The city’s legislative body has this term featured a vitriolic power struggle between Shabazz – a Purzycki ally – and a side led alternatively by Congo and at-large Councilman Sam Guy that was frequently determined to vote against Purzycki administration proposals.
Background: Feuding factions square off in Wilmington primary
The race between Shabazz and Congo was even more contentious, as running alongside the primaries was a dispute over Congo’s 2nd District seat, which Shabazz vacated when Congo admitted he had moved out of the district. That issue is still scheduled for a public hearing before the council late this month.
Neither Congo nor Shabazz could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.
The City Council will see some newcomers, though fewer than in 2016.
Shané Darby, a child behavioral therapist who advocates for Black maternal health and was endorsed by the national progressive group Working Families Party, swept in the four-way race in the 2nd District.
In a tight race in the 8th District, construction company manager Nathan Field beat public defender Sean Barney by 35 votes.
Bregetta Fields celebrates her win the Wilmington City council District 5 race Tuesday at Constitution Yards. (Photo: William Bretzger, Delaware News Journal)
In the 5th District, community advocate Bregetta Fields defeated Christian Willauer, an activist who has been critical of Purzycki’s housing policies, by 23 votes. Fields, the daughter of the late West Center City “matriarch” Mercedes Fields, faces an Independent candidate, Alexander Hackett, in the November general election.
She showed up to cheers at Purzycki’s victory party.
“Mommy said four more years!” she exclaimed.
At-large City Councilwomen Loretta Walsh and Rysheema Dixon, along with former City Councilwoman Maria Cabrera, advance to the general election in November. They will face three Republican candidates (James Spadola, incumbent Ciro Adams and Calvin Brown) and an Independent candidate, Ronnell Page, for four total seats.
At least one seat of those is reserved for a minority party member, but because of the high number of Democrats in the city, they are likely to hold the other three.
Cabrera’s reentry to the council races ousted Guy. She would bring Hispanic representation back to the City Council if elected in November.
The incumbent Chris Johnson won his primary in the 7th District and faces a Libertarian candidate, Dayl Thomas, in the general election. Yolanda McCoy of the 6th District, Michelle Harlee of the 4th District and Zanthia Oliver of the 3rd District all were reelected.
The narrowest victory came in the four-way race in the 1st District, where the incumbent Linda Gray beat Al Mills by just 12 votes.
Gray was appointed to the seat last year over Mills, who was the candidate originally suggested by a panel of council members. This sparked a power struggle over the seat and one of City Council’s most vitriolic disputes — partially because some council members opposed Shabazz’s appointment of that panel, and partially because the seat had been vacated by Mills’ twin brother.
Jeanne Kuang, Wilmington reporter
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Jeanne Kuang covers Wilmington for The News Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2476.
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