WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

5 Take-Aways on last night's WDEL Mayoral 'Town Hall' Forum

Did you happen to listen to (or watch) Monday night's Mayoral 'Town Hall' forum from Delaware Tech?

If not - if you live in the city of Wilmington, or even if you live in suburbia, appreciate how the city's future is intertwined with that of New Castle County - I invite you to listen to (or watch) the mayoral debate on this website.

I moderated this candidates' forum (we intentionally decided to call this first candidates' outing a "forum" rather than a "debate"). I gave the candidates a lot of rope at the start, not wanting rigid time enforcement to interfere with the candidates' initial pitches, nor with their answers to my kick-off question: "What is good and should be retained from the Baker Administration? What would you throw out or modify?"

But with five candidates on stage, I tried to move things along near the bottom of the hour as we took questions from the audience. The five candidates on stage: Reverend Derrick Johnson; City Councilman Kevin Kelley Sr.; Mayor Baker's Chief of Staff Bill Montgomery; Scott Spencer; and State Representative Dennis P. Williams. (State Senator Robert Marshall withdrew from our forum - after first accepting our invitation - citing a conflict; Robert Bovell had just declared and stayed in the audience.)

Five take-aways:

(1). Although we called it a forum - a chance to size up the candidates - some candidates, particularly Rev. Derrick Johnson - wanted to transform it into a debate, with jabs at his opponents. So early in the year, yet so much pent-up energy.

(2). Crime clearly remains the top issue in the city, followed by such things as economic restoration, dealing with the city's deficit, and day-to-day irritants such as parking and parking tickets. Candidates talked about getting to the roots of crime, but didn't particularly address how you achieve that while grappling with financial shortfalls. Familiar solutions: Community policing; getting young people to turn in their weapons; networking with the relatives of offenders while collaborating with clergy and business.

(3). In a small city such as Wilmington - with so many longstanding personal and professional relationships, and some ethnic and racial alliances - some Wilmingtonians have already "settled" on a candidate. Indeed, it seemed a significant chunk of our audience last night came already pledged to a candidate. That said, which candidate can specifically address the questions about crime, overall life in the city, and ways to raise revenue? Candidates talked about relaxing the stringent parking ticket enforcement - for example - but not about where the revenue would come to make up for diminished dollars.

(4). Each candidate enjoyed some identifiable supporters in the audience (except for perhaps, Scott Spencer), but the two biggest cheering sections appeared to belong to State Representative Dennis P. Williams and Rev. Derrick Johnson. Williams is clearly trying to put together a multi-racial / ethnic coalition; Johnson's support appears to come from the realm of the black church.

Check out each candidate's response to the final question about whether "Wilmington is ready for a white mayor? Does race matter?" One could easily see this mayoral competition become a two-way or three-way race, with some of the other candidates melting away. But with a multi-candidate race for the Democratic mayoral nomination (tantamount to being elected Mayor in a city with such a lopsided Democratic registration advantage), each candidate might be tempted to stay in. Things could get intense early.

(5). Outgoing Mayor Baker's Chief of Staff Bill Montgomery had his contingent of supporters in that audience, some dressed in Montgomery T-shirts. But, at least based on last night's crowd, Montgomery faces an uphill struggle. Each time Montgomery tried to defend the outgoing administration - in which he's been an integral part - he took a beating from much of the audience. Can Montgomery separate himself from the persona of an arrogant boss? Montgomery didn't really try last night.

Posted at 7:46am on January 31, 2012 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Tue, Jan 31, 2012 11:22am

(3) Interesting that the question is framed as "how do you raise revenue?" and NEVER framed as "how do you cut expenditures?"

Very clever.

Allan Loudell
Tue, Jan 31, 2012 11:45am

The two are mirror opposites of one another, aren't they? You could raise revenue in one area by cutting expenditures in another.

Anyway, you can rest assured I've hit politicians with that question - in the way you framed it - at other times. I distinctly remember hitting Representative Dennis Williams with that question, since he reigns over the finance committee, on several occasions.

Still, your brief comment doesn't address the point that that which is popular (i.e., less aggressive enforcement of parking rules) would further deplete revenue.

Tue, Jan 31, 2012 4:51pm

My response would be (1) eliminate parking enforcement intentionally (2) reduce revenue intentionally (3) force cuts in expenditures intentionally.

Tough love.

Mike from Delaware
Tue, Jan 31, 2012 7:22pm
OK, now for some tough talk about the city and its problems. #1 Crime, #2 Crime, # 3 Crime. Then Economic issues, because Crime affects the economic picture.

The city would love to be a magnet to attract suburban money, but they are in total denial. They say, crime isn't bad downtown, etc, etc. I seem to remember someone from the city government being interviewed on WDEL within the past year saying not as many shootings downtown as in other neighborhoods. THAT's reassuring. It may not be AS bad as some of those other neighborhoods, BUT most suburbanites are afraid of going downtown, been that way since the 1968 riots. Reading or hearing almost daily in the News Journal or WDEL about a shooting almost every day in the city. The city seems unable to stop the violence. Perception is what will decide.

Most suburbanites see downtown Wilmington as a slum and a dangerous place to be on foot. Have you driven up or down on Market St between 9th and Front (MLK Blvd)? Not many stores. No real reason to go there for one. Nothing to get excited about on Shipley or King Streets either. Nothing there you can't get in a far safer suburban shopping center/mall with FREE PARKING and no meter maids waiting to give you a ticket. As malls and shopping centers are private property, the owners of those places can keep vagrants and pan handlers out, Market St is a public street. Anyone can hang out there and do, thus making suburbanites less comfortable. Remember most shoppers are women. IF they don't feel safe, there isn't enough talk in the world to get them to take the risk and go downtown. IF they feel safe, then you'd have a chance to attract them. It is what it is.

Most suburbanites ONLY go to downtown Wilmington for work, court (jury duty or family court, paying fines, etc), or government buildings. Other parts of Wilmington like the River Front area, which isn't really downtown, Trolley Sq and Little Italy all seem to attract people there. Why is the River Front, the city's success story more successful than Downtown? People feel safer there. FREE PARKING. Things they want to go do (Blue Rocks, Night clubs and Restaurants). My suggestion, get Wilmington a minor league football, ice hockey, and basketball teams and house them in a stadium in the Riverfront area to keep bringing folks there year round. You've got a good thing going there, grow that even more. People, both city and suburban, like going there.

Bottomline, no matter what Mayor Baker, Sills, or whomever say, UNTIL the Suburbanite community feel safe going Downtown, it will never turn around, because the city needs those dollars flowing in from suburban women buying stuff, or suburbanites going to the theatres, restaurants, museums, etc. As long as folks don't feel safe there, folks will just stay away. It is what it is. Wilmington used to be a place to be someone, now its the place to get shot or mugged. Until that perception changes you'll not see many suburbanites going downtown.

Tue, Jan 31, 2012 10:25pm
MikeFromDelaware -- please clarify, you are from Delaware but not from Wilmington... right?

Mike from Delaware
Tue, Jan 31, 2012 11:16pm
NativeNine: I am a native Wilmingtonian. Only lived in the city a couple of years while a baby. Then my family moved to the suburbs (in the Newark area) and have lived in the suburbs since. It used to be a long distance phone call from Newark to Wilmington back then. Used to go shopping all the time downtown as a kid, my mom loved downtown. Used to go to the Warner, Grand, and Lowes theatres as a kid with my folks. Of course since we lived near Newark, I also went to Main St. in Newark as I could ride my bike to get there and of course went to the State Theatre for a Saturday matinee. I remember getting the freshly roasted peanuts from a fruit/veggy stand near 4th and King. Some good restaurants used to be on Market back then too (my mom would make a day of a trip downtown). We spent hours, it seemed to me, in Wilmington Dry Goods. Even though we lived in the suburbs, we'd go downtown to shop. The big department stores (other than Wanamakers on Augustine Cutoff and Strawbridges which was at the Merchandise Mart) were downtown. Many fond memories of Monkey Hill and the zoo. So to answer your question, I am a suburbanite and have lived in the Wilmington Metro Area (New Castle County) my entire life.

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 1:20am
I was a pizza delivery driver in Wilmington for two years until I was mugged and ended up at St. Francis emergency with a quarter-size gash in the back of my head. After that, I told my employer I've paid my dues and want a transfer to someplace of at least relative safety. I now have a suburban gig which, while nothing is guaranteed, is in a location with a much lower crime rate than Wilmington.
Crime has appeared to further escalate since I left, as now people aren't even safe in Rockford Park or Brandywine Hills (remember Marsha Lee?), as criminals from bad parts of town are going to affluent areas and perhaps even to the suburbs (how about those recent Pike Creek home invasions) to commit their deeds.

I lived in the city for about a year back in the 70's, and while it wasn't paradise, crime wasn't anything like it is today and I would dare say now you could find sections of Philadelphia, Baltimore, or even Chicago that are safer. It's tragic what's happened to Wilmington - at one time a reasonably good place to live and work.

Mike from Delaware
Wed, Feb 1, 2012 7:52am
Mrpizza: Well said.

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