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11/13/2012
NCCo, Wilmington politicians coalition eyed; Weiner: County Council will be on the lookout - News Journal


County Councilman Bob Weiner agrees that the coalition is political in nature, but said that doesn’t mean there’s not a plan.

“Oh, there’s a plan,” he said. “It’s to pay back whatever political promises they made to get elected.”

Weiner noted the endorsements Gordon got from county employee unions and the fact that Williams and Potter helped him secure the Wilmington vote. The county council will be on the lookout for any raises proposed for workers or grants to the city, he said.

NCCo, Wilmington politicians coalition eyed

News Journal 11/13/12 Adam Taylor and Andrew Staub

As New Castle County’s top leaders take office today, there is little evidence they will be able to fulfill their promise to hit the ground running as a coalition working with Wilmington leaders.

Tom Gordon starts his first day as county executive and Christopher Bullock as county council president. Gordon and Bullock joined newly-elected Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams last week as election returns poured in, promising to join state Rep.-elect Charles Potter Jr. in a coalition prepared to lead the county and city.

“We started as a team and we finished as a team,” Gordon told the crowd at Timothy’s on the Riverfront restaurant as last Tuesday’s victories became clear. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us – Charles, Dennis, Rev. Bullock, the entire team. We’re looking to take it very seriously. We’re going to get to work right away.”

But as Gordon and Bullock get sworn in today, no plan exists for the promised coalition.

“I don’t think there’s anything that coordinated yet,” Gordon said.

Bullock said that the coalition means “we will not have an opposing vision when it comes to public safety, economic development and education,” but said no specific plans have been hatched.

Williams, who takes office in January, refused to comment. Potter, who gets sworn-in in January as well, canceled an interview on the subject scheduled for Monday.

Political coalition

The lack of a plan comes as no surprise to incoming City Council President Theo Gregory, a former city Democratic Party chairman. He says the group came together solely to win office.

“I view that coalition as more of a group that came together to get themselves elected, to form an election coalition, not necessarily a governance coalition,” Gregory said. “I see it having little to no influence in terms of how we govern.”

County Councilman Bob Weiner agrees that the coalition is political in nature, but said that doesn’t mean there’s not a plan.

“Oh, there’s a plan,” he said. “It’s to pay back whatever political promises they made to get elected.”

Weiner noted the endorsements Gordon got from county employee unions and the fact that Williams and Potter helped him secure the Wilmington vote. The county council will be on the lookout for any raises proposed for workers or grants to the city, he said.

Williams is in the early stages of his transition effort. That’s an opportunity Gordon didn’t have. He found out last week that he would be taking office today, instead of the January date that everyone assumed. Delaware’s solicitor ruled that County Executive Paul Clark must leave office today because he was filling the unexpired term of Chris Coons, who left office to join the U.S. Senate.

Bob Valihura, president of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, said it’s understandable that no plan exists.

“Gordon had one week to get ready when he thought he would have eight,” he said. “I expect a broader picture is not really the goal at this point. Getting his people in place is the goal.”

County Councilman George Smiley said county government already cooperates with the city and state when it’s possible. He doesn’t see much changing now that Gordon and Bullock are allies. Seven of the council’s 13 members still must pass the key initiatives.

“The executive and legislative are separate branches of government,” Smiley said. “As goes the majority, so goes council. That doesn’t mean it will go with the wishes of the council president or the county executive.”

County Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick is worried that Gordon and Bullock will try to deploy county police in the city, after riding Williams’ coattails in Wilmington led to victory at the polls.

“We’re using smoke and mirrors to cover as much as we can in the county already,” Kilpatrick said. “It all boils down to money and we can’t afford to provide resources for other areas when we’re barely getting by ourselves.”

City concerns

Loretta Walsh, who just won her sixth term as an at-large city councilwoman, said the coalition could prove smart if used for improved governance – but added an alliance borne of political motivations might not prosper for long, she said.

“You’re talking about offices that might find themselves in adversarial positions with each other over a particular subject,” she said. “And when you form alliances like that, things can go south real fast if something isn’t to all of your liking.”

Despite the claims on the campaign trail to govern together, none of the candidates was in favor of a metropolitan government that would merge the county and the city.

Chuck Mulholland, president of the Civic League for New Castle County, hopes that changes.

“I heard all the pronouncements on the campaign trail about getting more state money for New Castle County, but I think when Councilman Potter gets to Dover he’ll see that money isn’t available,” he said. “Hopefully that will make all four of them realize that funding all these little kingdoms is hard to justify.”

Ed Osborne owns an auto repair shop in Wilmington and jumped on Williams’ campaign after he championed a 2009 state law that stopped the city from using eminent domain to condemn Osborne’s property.

Osborne thinks the team of Williams, Gordon, Potter and Bullock could make Wilmington more of a political powerhouse. He pointed to state Democrats using Williams in a robocall encouraging voting in the general election as proof of the mayor-elect’s clout.

“The Democratic Party is starting to see that the City of Wilmington and the voters in the City of Wilmington are starting to have some power,” Osborne said.

Bigger circle

The coalition showed signs of trying to expand its ranks at an Oct. 4 city council meeting where Potter presented Williams with a commendation for his service as a state representative. As part of the honor, Potter handed Williams a poster of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ six Lombardi Trophies. Each trophy bore the face of a different elected official – Williams, Gordon, Potter, Bullock, and city councilmen Trippi Congo and Justen Wright.

“We have one of these for everybody who’s on here,” Potter said.

Congo said he supported Gordon, Williams, Potter and Bullock and considers himself part of their team. He’s unaware of any agenda so far, but said his established releationships with the coalition members should help him navigate city government more effectively in his second term.

Wright called his inclusion on the poster a surprise. With a preference to campaign independently, Wright said he wasn’t on the “inside” of the alliance but didn’t think the poster meant to draw him into the group.

“When I saw it for the first time, I was shocked. It was more of a surprise than anything,” Wright said of the poster. “But I wouldn’t take it as trying to force me into any type of alliance or anything.”

County Councilman Penrose Hollins, the body’s senior member, said he hopes the transition from an election team to a bloc of elected officials isn’t a group ego trip.

“If all of this is to better serve the public, I’m all for it,” he said. “If, on the other hand, it’s just to show everyone that they’re super-politicians, I don’t think it would work. The last thing I advise anyone to do would be to come into office with a big head.”

Others, such as Walsh, aren’t so worried.

“I don’t believe there’s this whole conspiracy to take over all the governments and become king of the world, or at least king of Delaware,” Walsh said. “The bottom line is you can win as many elections as you put the hard work in to win, but if you don’t deliver it doesn’t mean a damn thing at the end of the day.”


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