Wilmington City Council appoints new member, ending 4-month battle

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Linda Gray, flanked by her husband Harold, was sworn in Thursday night as the newest member of Wilmington City Council. (City of Wilmington)

Linda Gray, flanked by her husband Harold, was sworn in Thursday night as the newest member of Wilmington City Council. (City of Wilmington)

Wilmington City Council has finally replaced a member who resigned in the fall to take a seat in the state House of Representatives.

By an 8-4 vote, members picked former parole officer and magistrate judge Linda Gray to become the 13th member. Her selection resolved a bitter, four-month battle that further divided a fractured council.

The council had initially followed a process outlined in the city code that let five members, all selected by Council President Hanifa Shabazz, to meet behind closed doors. They sifted  through a dozen applications; interviewed candidates; and then selected their nominee to replace Nnamdi Chukwuocha.

They chose Chukwuocha’s twin brother, Albert Mills.  But the full council, which had the final say, voted Mills down in a tense, rancorous meeting that ended with accusations and hard feelings.

Wilmington City Council rejected a committee’s choice of Albert Mills (left) to take his twin brother Nnamdi Chukwuocha’s seat. The brothers were named Delaware’s poets laureate in 2015. Chukwuocha was elected to the General Assembly in November.(Twitter/@TwinPoets)

Many members complained that interviews and deliberations were not conducted in public. Others said Mills was picked by select members because he would support Mayor Mike Purzycki’s policies.

Members chose another candidate, civic leader Subira Ibrahim, but her name was never put to the full body for a vote. Instead the council decided to change its law to fill a vacancy that let every member participate in the interview process — in a public meeting.

From a field of seven candidates, members chose Gray, a longtime leader of the Brandywine Hills Community Association and other civic groups. Gray was approved Thursday night, then took the oath of office and joined her colleagues.

“I think that was a good process,” Gray said Friday. “I think everyone on the council should have an opportunity to see the candidates and hear their interview.”

Gray, 70,  pledged to be an independent voice. She noted that she is friendly with Purzycki, as well as people who oppose his policies.

“Most people that know me know that I march to my own music. And that’s what I’m going to continue to do,’’ Gray said. “I’m aware of and interact people on both sides. So I’m going to try to stay detached and look at things equitably and fairly and vote that way.”

Gray said she would strongly support residents of the 1st Councilmanic District, located in the northern section of town. Reducing crime is a top priority, but she said she is also interested in improving the street conditions, and she is concerned that too many dogs run loose.

While the seat is now filled and this latest dispute over, some members are still calling on the General Assembly to change the city charter so vacancies can be filled with a special election.

Councilwoman Michelle Harlee, who sponsored the bill that changed the process and led to Gray’s selection, called the new way a “win-win’’ for all members.

The process that we just went through was very transparent,’’ Harlee said. “Those of us that were not on the original committee, we just came in with an open mind. We just wanted to make sure that we had our eyes and ears open.”

Harlee also was pleased that Wilmington residents could watch the process in action.

“That was another positive change,’’ she said.

Shabazz said she was looking forward to working with Gray.

“She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the seat,’’ Shabazz said.

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