Tempers flare at county exec. debate

By Tom Lehman 1:27am, August 16, 2012 - Updated 9:14am, August 16, 2012
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With less than a month to go before the Delaware Democratic Primary, four candidates for New Castle County executive face off at a debate that saw verbal sparring between two candidates.

Incumbent Paul Clark and former County Executive Tom Gordon traded barbs during the Wednesday debate over each others' histories.

Clark brought up Gordon's guilty plea to misdemeanor charges in 2007 for having county employees work on his campaign during work hours and requested that he release documents from a federal racketeering case surrounding it. The former county executive says he did not have the evidence Clark was asking for.

Gordon focused on the alleged conflict of interest involving Clark's wife, who stepped down from her position as an attorney with law firm Saul Ewing , which serves several county developers, on request of an ethics commission that said one of them need to resign. She had held the position while Clark was county council president.

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"I never made any money. Your wife works for most of the developers that you've changed the law for, so you want to talk about damage to the county government, Mr. Clark," Gordon says.

"I promised that my wife left the job," Clark responds. "Tom, how about open up the indictment...How about open up the sealed case and let us see the tapes and the evidence and open it up to the public so we can erase all that you say is..."

"Nothing went forward on me, Paul" Gordon says.

The other two candidates, Jon Husband, a county Special Services department manager, and Bill Shahan, an employee in the county land-use department, avoided direct discussion of their competition's history.

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"What's is in the past is in the past. The problem now is what is in front of us," Shahan says.

"I guess the best thing I've learned from what I've seen in the past is much more communication, high ethical standards and a much more close working relationship with the entire community," Husband says.

The candidates also discussed topics including allocation of county funding and public safety--particularly in the Wilmington area, which prompted a variety of response from the candidates.

Shahan says he advocates joint training of city and county cops, which he believes will improve communication between the two departments.

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"If they start from day one in a joint academy they're all gonna be brothers and sisters from that academy and the color of their uniform and the district they serve isn't gonna matter," Shahan says.

However, Clark disagreed and says he thinks both departments already communicate effectively. He thinks the diminished number of county officers is a more prevalent issue--one he claims is already being addressed.

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"We ran an academy 20-something officers graduated, we ran another one instantly, it has 35 in it. We will run another one to get our numbers up to a fully-funded 370 officers. We believe we can get back to doing some real community policing at that number," Clark says.

But Gordon, who previously served as the county's police chief, says numbers should have never gotten that low and the divide between departments has to be eliminated.

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"I think that the city fire and the city police department 'ought to be dispatched out of the same center that all the other police departments are dispatched. They ought to be sitting side-by-side," Gordon says.

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