"I won student council election in 11th grade that nobody thought I was going to win, and then four years ago I won a county executive election against a three-term incumbent where nobody thought we could win," said Matt Meyer. "We came in, and we turned around a government that was spending more money than it was taking in as revenue--a government where insiders were expected to get certain deals and good jobs, and we got rid of that whole culture, that way of doing business."
With a challenger in the primary, incumbent Meyer is seeking reelection to the New Castle County Executive position he won against the odds in his first attempt.
Like anyone seeking reelection this year, Meyer faces a campaign challenge in displaying what he's accomplished over the extent of his previous term, while perhaps more importantly highlighting the work done in just a few months as the world found itself mired in a global pandemic. For the former, he trotted out an extensive list of achievements.
"We really delivered good, delivered service to the people of this county in a number of ways," he said.
Meyer pointed to the creation of checkbook.nccde.org--an online expenditure tracker which allows county residents to view how their tax dollars are being spent--his job creation, apprenticeship, and business attraction initiatives, the tax collection efforts of his administration, and "the most ambitious environmental agenda in New Castle County's history."
From making it easier for commercial properties to get solar power, to reducing fossil fuels use, to fighting to restrict the heightening of a landfill in the county, to being the "first administration in 15 years to break ground on a new park," Meyer said the health and well-being of New Castle County residents has always been his main concern.
"Things were going great and then, of course, four-and-a-half months ago, the unexpected happened. COVID came, this invisible virus, a pandemic descended on our county. We needed to switch gears in every way," Meyer said. "Now, we're seeing that we're basically fighting three crises at the same time: There's a pandemic of 1918, a Great Depression of the 1930s, and a civil rights movement of the 1960s, all happening right now in 2020. We're leading, and we're leading in a way that's having a dramatic impact on the people of this county."
His administration was responsible for making Delaware the first state in the country to have saliva-based COVID-19 testing available, he said, and his partnership with an MIT-based company to do innovative waste-water testing for viral tracking has garnered coverage around the region.
Meyer had taken some heat after the county applied for, and received, a significant percentage of the state-designated federal funding to combat COVID-19, but said he was doing what was best for his constituents and wasn't doing anything others weren't as well.
"There are 176 other cities and counties across the country that qualified for that money, and every single one of those 177 jurisdictions applied to receive the money," he said, adding, "That's a federal allocation; it would be irresponsible for me as the elected official of New Castle County, not to take resources allocated to us from the federal government. People that have a problem with us taking the money should speak to federal officials. They should speak to the White House and to Congress for making the allocation formula...Why, in the middle of a pandemic, should we be blaming the county for taking what money is rightfully ours? It would be a ridiculous abrogation of responsibility if we didn't take the resources. The most important thing--whether it's state government, county government, federal government municipal government--is that we put those resources to work for you."
He also noted, receiving the money didn't mean he took anything away from those who needed it.
"We got the money and my immediate concern was--how do we put this to use for the people of New Castle County?" he said. "Normally, there are all these barriers between federal, state, municipal, county governments. I told my staff, 'Don't worry about those boundaries. We're in a pandemic. The virus doesn't see those boundaries, and so neither do we.' We got calls from federal officials saying they needed PPE, from New York Police, from Wilmington Fire, from Elsmere police. We didn't say 'no' to anyone. We made sure that everyone had PPE, and everyone had testing, and we're continuing to do that--and we will not stop until this virus is out of our communities."
Meyer also pointed to his appointment of Col. Vaughn Bond as the first Black chief of police in county history as more evidence he was the right man for the challenges the county and the country is facing.
The Executive was challenged for his handling of allegations of sexual harassment within the police department. Meyer and New Castle County face two lawsuits from a total of seven current and former female police officers, who claim the county served as a "safe harbor of a serial sexual predator." The results of a Wilmington Police investigation into Lt. Col. Quinton Watson, the former second in command at NCCPD, were never disclosed publicly due the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights. The LEOBR could see changes, inspired by the current civil rights movement, and Meyer has said he would support changes that would make Watson's report public.
Additionally, Meyer said no one could have done more, or better.
"I'm proud of what we've done, and I'm proud of how we manage our government. When we came in, there were all sorts of historic issues involving race, involving gender bias, involving family bias, and what we could have done is said, 'This is in the past. We're not addressing it," he said. "Instead, what we said is, 'Come forward. Come forward and let us know...and--this is historic, I don't know if any county executive has ever said--you can actually come to me and you can come to my deputy, my chief administrative officer, and people came forward. They came forward with all sorts of historic issues; issues that a lawyer would tell you: 'We don't need to address because of the statute of limitations.' I said, 'We're not following legal advice in this instance.'"
His priority, Meyer said, was to make sure those who did not feel safe or comfortable would instead find themselves in a position where their concerns were being heard and addressed. And, like pandemic concerns and the improvement of race relations in the county, Meyer said he's already in the thick of it, and his leadership thus far shows he's the best man for the job moving forward.
"Honestly, this job has its tough days. But it's also the honor of a lifetime to serve," he said. "We were creating and sustaining those jobs when times were good, when unemployment was at record lows. Right now, for the coming months and possibly years, it's not going to be like that. We need to continue down that path. You need someone in this office who understands how to orient our land use process to prioritize job growth--not just for people with PhDs, with medical degrees, with law degrees, who are high-end bankers, but also for people who, maybe, dropped out of high school and need a job, for our brothers and sisters, our friends and neighbors who made a mistake and are coming out of incarceration. We've got to make sure job opportunities are available to everyone."
If you want to hear from Meyer himself prior to the election, you'll probably be able to find him at Glasgow Park around 6:30 p.m. every Thursday night for his socially-distanced pop-up concerts.
Meyer faces political newcomer Maggie Jones in the September primary.