Mayor Williams veto loss is Wilmington’s gain

    John Watson is a long time observer of Delaware news. NewsWorks is one of the places where he expresses his opinion.  This time he has thoughts about the city council veto override of Mayor Williams’ budget.


    Here is John Watson’s Essayworks

    Is it all over, or is there a next step in the budget battle between Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams and Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, who came out the winner in a vote to over ride the mayor’s veto of city council approved budget?

    The l0 to 3 vote was more than enough to show that Gregory is fully in charge of council and maybe the city as well. There was only token opposition. Councilmen Justen Wright, Ernest “Trippi” Congo and Bob Williams voted against the override. You may remember that Williams voted present when the budget was approved.

    Now it’s back to the drawing board as the old saying goes. Who makes the next move? Will the mayor take the issue back to court again saying the budget is unconstitutional? That argument didn’t impress a judge last week. In a News Journal interview, mayoral chief of staff John Matlusky says it’s possible.  He says the administration’s next move could include mounting another legal challenge to city council’s budget. He says it is being reviewed at the moment, and “all options are on the table”. Council President Theo Gregory reportedly says he hopes that won’t happen. “It’ll waste the taxpayer’s money. Nobody would be the winner in this, only the lawyers,” said Gregory.

    Even holding the winning hand, Gregory says he is willing to work with Mayor Williams to adjust the budget in June. The Mayor’s main concern seems to be a good one. He says council is violating the doctrine of separation of powers because of the budget allocation of $250,000 placed under council’s control. The money, council claims, is for youth initiatives.

    It occurs to me Mayor Dennis Williams might have done a better job in his first encounter with city council if he had listened to some of the help being offered by the previous Mayor James Baker, who is quoted in the News Journal saying “I fought council when I was Mayor about various issues too.” (He famously once declared be would go to war with city lawmakers.) “But there is a point when you have to understand you can only go so far with that battle”.  Baker is the only mayor to serve the three term maximum allowed by law.  He served as president of City Council before being elected Mayor.  Could it be that he is just a little bit wiser than most about service as Wilmington mayor and working with city council? 

    Councilman Bud Freel, chairman of the Finance Committee, accuses the mayor of wanting to be “mayor and the president of city council”. After screaming about separation of powers he points out in a News Journal interview that he is baffled by the mayor’s moves, especially since “99 percent” of his original budget is still in tact. He says it’s up to the administration to figure out how to spend the money without affecting revenue.

    The Mayor points out that “while there is disagreement on some items in the budget, we can’t lose sight of the critical need to provide police and fire protection, trash collection and safe parks for our kids.” All good points from Mayor Williams. As for the mayor making remarks on his weekly radio appearance about having the police pick up city council member for his Tuesday meeting (which failed) I’m sure that was tongue-in-cheek.

    I’m not sure how Mayor Williams and City Council President Gregory will bury their differences, but they are both highly educated men who have shown the ability to get things done in many ways over the years. After all, that’s why they won their individual elections. The people of Wilmington trust both of them to get the job done. In the end this is what’s best for the city of Wilmington. If they follow that ideal, all will bode well in the next four years.


    John Watson is a Wilmington radio talkshow host.  You can contact him at

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal