Rysheema Dixon

She was new to politics four years ago, and now with nearly a full term under her belt, Wilmington City Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon is running for council president.

"Wilmington deserves better than what city council, as a body, is able to give, currently," she told WDEL in an interview.

The dysfunction and infighting that's plagued Wilmington City Council and its 13 elected members--putting it in the news for all the wrong reasons--is what really spurred Dixon, a Democrat, to run to lead the body. She said council could be far more effective.

"You cannot get things done if you always continuously argue," she said. "I've heard community members come in, and now it's become a 'have your popcorn out and watch city council meetings'; it should never be that way, where a body of council is seen in that capacity."

If elected, the 33-year-old said she'll work towards unity and towards restoring trust in the community. She's forced to give up her at-large seat to run for council president. She'll likely face incumbent Council President Hanifa Shabazz. Shabazz has not publicly announced her re-election campaign, but recently held a fundraiser.

"There's been so many different things that happened...as far as what issues we haven't been able to do, and some of that is just based on our relationships with each other. The respect level that we have for each council member, the communication levels of how we talk to each other, and how we keep each other transparent and honest about different things that are happening," she said. "All council members want the same thing, they just want to do it in different ways."

She suggested a caucus prior to floor discussions that could aid in a lessening of some of the lack of decorum on the floor.

"It's allowing each council member to be heard, regardless of how we may feel about their opinion on something or not--allowing them to speak out--because a lot of it as 'I haven't been heard' and you see it spread...and because of that we're not able to actually get good policies done."

Dixon said, at times, she's felt like she hasn't been heard. 

"Between the administration and city council, and some of the departments...we have felt like we weren't heard and a lot of us can say that, and we've said it on the floor at council meetings, a lot of us feel like we're kind of being tapped on the head, kind of 'stay in your lane,' and that doesn't put council members in a place where they feel like they're being effective."

She pointed to the issue of affordable housing in the city, where Dixon said she's has had to push back against the Purzycki administration, to ensure the community's voice is heard. She said too many Wilmingtonians are losing their homes or are unable to navigate the Wilmington Land Bank system, which turns vacant and abandoned, delinquent properties, into potential for new homeowners.

"Being able to change the marketing...community members who live there, who are from there, will most likely buy there, they just need the opportunity to be able to do that," she said.

But she said the city needs to better coordinate wrap-around services that can keep people in their new homes.

"We're also making sure that they have employment opportunities...and that they have healthy foods, and how they're able to survive on the basic needs," she said. "[Those are] the things we struggle with--it's not just a housing issue--it's how we do make someone, in general, a better, productive citizen in the city of Wilmington."

Dixon stressed the city's issues are all deeply intertwined, but often treated separately.

"The reason why you may have crime and violence is a rupture of what hasn't been happening within the community around housing or economic development, career development," she noted.

Despite Wilmington's problems complicated by a lack of control over a school district, she said many answers lie within education. The board member of Great Oaks Charter School in Wilmington cited a need for a more comprehensive approach that includes working hand-in-hand with state legislators.

"Realizing that's what's happening in our streets, in our young people, [we need to start] to move into the schools, [to realize] how the connection is made there, and how we can help with policies around that, regardless of being able to have control over the system or not."

While Dixon lives downtown and appreciates the changes spawned by investments by the Purzycki administration and the Buccini/Pollin Group, she wants to see more investment in other parts of the city.

"All walks of life should be able to have the same stable and safe areas in order for them to come into, so I do think that there has to be more development happening in other areas," she said.

Her vision for Wilmington is a strong one, based on community investment and pride, that inspires its residents to rally around safe, healthy, and prosperous environments.

"Walk through the streets and see the same type of development or changes within any area of the city that you come in to so, one, you would come into Riverside in the same capacity that you would feel good about being in Eastside, and the same way of raising up the history that's within our different communities, but also stop the--what we say--hearing our bad sidewalks that creak, how we talk about what our communities needs are, and seeing that there is more community investment and what they are actionable and they can actually do in their communities more than I think what government should be doing."

Though, she cautioned, that investment needs to be focused.

"So that we're not just kind of like in some cases bulldozing over communities as far as what we want, but more so what they actually want and need."

In her four years on council, Dixon said she would have like to have seen a more solid stance taken--as a body--about the rising gun violence in the city, from which youth are falling victim. She said those youth need to play a pivotal role in solutions.

"They're having their own teen town halls, they kind of really talk about what their issues are and how they can stop the violence themselves; they've also come to our city council meetings and reached out to us too and said 'hey can you help us with finding mentors' and pushing the administration to meet with us' ... but I think the young people have to be the ones that lead that charge especially because the peer-to-peer is very powerful."