Wilmington Mayoral candidates face off in first debate

Six of seven Democrats running for mayor of Wilmington debated Tuesday night. Incumbent Mayor Dennis Williams did not attend. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Six of seven Democrats running for mayor of Wilmington debated Tuesday night. Incumbent Mayor Dennis Williams did not attend. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Jobs and the economy was the big issue topic during the first Wilmington Mayoral debate Tuesday night, where candidates said they would create job opportunities and incentivize business growth.

Six of the seven candidates—all Democrats—attended the debate at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, hosted by WHYY and the News Journal. It was the first of a series of debates to be held before September’s primary vote.

Incumbent Mayor Dennis Williams declined the invitation to participate—inciting boos from the audience when it was announced that he was absent.

The debate was a mild-mannered event with candidates agreeing on several issues—but all contenders said they have more to offer than the current mayor.

Candidates said they will work to reduce crime and make Wilmington an attractive setting for new businesses.

“One of the big problems we have is the fact that because of some of the issues with violence in the city people are leaving, businesses are leaving right now,” said non-profit leader Eugene Young.

Meanwhile Michael Purzycki, executive director of the Wilmington Riverfront Corporation, said he would add two new officers on the street by transferring officers who now work as a security detail for Mayor Williams. City Council President Theo Gregory said he would incorporate a community policing plan and mobile tactical patrol units in neighborhoods that need them.

State Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington, said crime will be eliminated if jobs are created. He outlined his plans for the “Work-a-Day, Earn-a-Pay” program, which creates public works jobs for disadvantaged individuals who are out of work.

The issue of defendants not being able to find work after they’re released from prison also was discussed, as was the importance of training men and woman for trade jobs.

“College isn’t meant for everyone,” said former City Councilman Norm Griffiths, calling for more trade training in Wilmington. “We really need to address that kind of need in the community.”

Many of the candidates said they will lay out a plan for economic development that makes Wilmington an attractive place to start a business.

“What we’ve got to look at is, how does the mayor sit down with business leaders and figure out how we move the ball forward so there’s opportunity for everybody?” said former City Councilman Kevin Kelley. “That’s not happening now.”

This debate will be broadcast on WHYY-TV on Sunday, April 3 at 1:30 p.m. The candidates will meet for another debate on April 21 at Howard High School. 

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