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Enlighten Me: UD student runs for mayor of Newark

Linda Watson, courtesy of Kasai Guthrie

A 21-year-old is running for mayor of Newark.

In this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks with University of Delaware undergraduate student and mayoral candidate, Kasai Guthrie.




So far, the only candidates in Newark’s mayoral election this April are Newark resident Catherine Ciferni and Kasai Guthrie, who recently turned 21 years old.


Guthrie grew up in Newark. He’s a student in the University of Delaware’s entrepreneurship program and will graduate in 2021— if he doesn’t take time off to run the city.  I recently sat down with Guthrie to discuss his run for office.


SCHMIDT: I’ll start off with the obvious question: why are you running for mayor?

"Homeowners are sick and tired of the current mayor raising the taxes. The students are sick and tired of the problems faced by the Newark police. There's a parking issue. There's a housing issue."

KASAI GUTHRIE: There's many reasons. Growing up I always wanted to be and create solutions rather than talk about them. Living in Newark so long, me and my friends and people I know always talked about all the problems that were going on in Newark. From the discrimination to the problem where it's ran by older adults and the median age is my demographic.

What really forced me to get into the politics of things was there was a story of me getting arrested and my roommates getting arrested for throwing a party, and the police fabricated some of the stuff … But after hearing all of my classmates from Salesianum tell me, that’s wrong, and how that doesn't happen to them in their fraternities, I wanted to dive deeper into more of the discrimination problems of Newark.

So I started asking more questions. And then that led me to really think about more issues. So I starting diving real deep into the Newark Post Online. And I was literally reading the Newark Post Online for several hours a day until I came up with some of the top problems, which were: homeowners are sick and tired of the current mayor raising the taxes; the students are sick and tired of the problems faced by the Newark police; there's a parking issue; there's a housing issue. All these problems I started really figuring out and creating solutions. And after going to a few council meetings— that’s what really motivated me, going to a few council meetings and realizing I could really do this.

"I want to bridge the gap between the students and the residents."

But why I’m running for mayor is I just want to create solutions. I feel like everybody can work together. There's no reason why the City Council isn’t working with the University when without the University, Newark, Del. would just be another Elkton. So I just feel like everybody needs to bridge the gap. And that’s what I want to do with my campaign. I want to bridge the gap between the students and the residents.

SCHMIDT: This is a question I would ask any new candidate, but it’s an obvious question for you given your age. What do you think qualifies you for the job of mayor?

GUTHRIE: What qualifies me to be able to run for mayor is my ability to connect. Growing up I was always able to be 15 and walk into a major bank and get funding for a business I needed. I was also able to turn around and go to school and connect with my peers. Growing up on food stamps and government assistance, I was able to connect to that demographic, but also go to a private school and connect with that demographic. I think I can connect to all the different gaps and bridge them, something that the current mayor isn’t doing right now.

"I've experienced every single day of my life in Newark, Del., and I know Newark like the back of my hand."

So I'm an entrepreneur. I'm the founder of We Need Our Fathers and also Neggster. We Need Our Fathers is an organization I put together that helps absent fathers and their children reconcile. But the main focus is to help those children … Nexter is a financial literacy company that teaches financial literacy to people of the lower demographic that doesn't know what credit is or how to get a loan and stuff like that … I've always been a helper, ever since I was fifteen I’ve been helping people.

Another reason why I'm fit to become mayor is just the simple reason I’ve grown up here. I’ve experienced every single day of my life in Newark, Del. and I know Newark like the back of my hand. I’ve always wanted to go to the University of Delaware when I was walking on Main Street at a young age. And then it wasn’t until I got to the University of Delaware that this wasn’t really the ideal place for somebody like me ... A lot of people don’t know this but two years ago the University of Delaware was federally mandated to accept more diverse students … So growing up I just thought that only the smartest and the luckiest people get into University of Delaware from my demographic. And it wasn’t until I got here that I realized that it can be changed with a lot of things, and not only the University of Delaware but Newark in general, you know.

I don't think age really matters in this time of day. I just want to motivate my peers that it's not a timetable to do anything or accomplish anything in life. And that’s what I want to prove with this campaign.

"I really want to start this dialogue of holding the University of Delaware accountable for the infrastructure."

SCHMIDT: So you touched on this a little in your first question. Essentially, what is your platform? What issues have you identified constituents care about, and what are you bringing in terms of your big issues?

GUTHRIE: Some of the main problems in Newark right now are the housing issue with the towers being torn down. Residents are upset with the way University of Delaware is growing and also the way developers are developing. The students are really upset with just the police and how there aren't any outlets to go out or do things at night. I’ve spoken to a few homeowners in Newark, and many of them are upset because the current mayor has promised to keep increasing taxes to pay for things. But with my campaign I really want to start this dialogue of holding the University of Delaware accountable for the infrastructure. Just because the students are the main ones using that infrastructure, using Main Street and ruining that road. So I feel as though the University of Delaware should definitely be responsible for some upgrades to the infrastructure.

To go back to the point on the taxes. I feel that being an entrepreneur at heart, I could create more streams of revenue and more plans to bring revenue to the city without using tax dollars, so that we could start decreasing taxes and make Newark an affordable place to live and raise a family. And I also want to promise the homeowners that Newark will be a peaceful place with more bridging the gap and communication between the students and the residents. I feel as though we can all live in this place together. The students can have fun, and the residents can be at peace knowing that their property isn’t getting messed with or getting touched, or they’re not getting woken up at night from loud party music. So it’s just holding everybody accountable and bridging the gaps between everybody.

SCHMIDT: So why are you running now? You could wait a couple years and do it after you graduate or something like that. What’s pressing you to run this year?

GUTHRIE: So I could wait, but growing up I’ve never been the person to wait for anything. You know, anything I went after I went after it that second. I hustled and I basically just grinded until I got what I want. I could wait ‘til I graduated but I think that would just do everyone a disservice. A lot of the students are rallying behind me because they want change as well. A lot of the residents are rallying behind me because they want change, and lot of University officials are rallying behind me because they want change.

So I think actually running, actually putting up a good fight in this campaign will prove to other people in other situations that age is not an issue. When you’re faced with a problem, come up with a solution. And keep trying until it’s fixed.

SCHMIDT: Kasai Guthrie, undergraduate student at the University of Delaware and candidate for mayor of Newark, thank you so much.

GUTHRIE: Thank you.


A previous version of this story stated that Guthrie would face Newark Mayor Polly Sierer in the April election. The transcript and archived audio have been corrected to match the story that ran during The Green on Jan. 18, 2019.  

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.