New mayor, new chief, same challenges in Wilmington

When Mayor-elect Dennis Williams takes office next month he’ll be the first new mayor in more than a decade, but he’ll face many of the same challenges his predecessor faced twelve years ago.

Earlier this month, Williams introduced his pick for Wilmington’s new police chief as current WPD Captain Christine Dunning.  Williams campaigned as someone who would be tough on crime, which is very similar to the stand Wilmington Mayor James Baker took twelve years ago when he first took office.

We decided to go back into the WHYY archives to compare and contrast the comments of Dunning and her predecessors.  In a 2001 interview, then new Police Chief Michael Szczerba said, “Sometimes I think the perception here is that people are afraid to come into this town, afraid to come downtown for a show, or for dinner.  I want people to feel safe.”

Mayor Baker said at the time, “We certainly can make the neighborhoods better in reference to what we see today.”  Over the past twelve years, that’s what Baker has fought to do, but the issue of crime remains a deterrant for some coming to a downtown district that’s seen major improvements during Baker’s three terms in office.

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As Baker departs in January, the crime issue lands squarely in the lap of Williams and Dunning.  “We have to look at our operations, may have to streamline them a little bit, and carefully balance out serving the citizens that we have an oath to protect, and also our personnel, making sure that they’re safe at the same time,” said Dunning as she was introduced earlier this month.

On the night he won the Democratic primary, essentially securing the mayor’s race, Williams pledged that he would make the city’s streets safer in his first six months in office.  If the past twelve years are any indication, that could be a tall order.

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