2020 Races to Watch: State Senate 5th District Democratic Primary
As part of our 2020 Election coverage, we are also highlighting a series of “Races to Watch” ahead on the Sept 15th Delaware Primary.
The first takes us to Brandywine Hundred where Delaware Public Media contributor Mark Fowser looks at a trio of Democrats seeking to turn a red seat blue in the Delaware State Senate this fall.
The State Senate’s 5th district follows the Delaware arc and includes a wide area between I-95 and Concord Pike. It’s been represented for 20 years by Republican Cathy Cloutier, currently the State Senate Minority Whip. Cloutier’s 2016 Democratic opponent, former Wilmington police officer Denise Bowers, is back for another run. Kyle Evans Gay, an attorney and mother of two children under age five, is also in the race - as is Eric Levin, a former teacher and now the owner of a small business. Levin is also a past candidate for office, but that was a long time ago.
Denise Bowers did not face a Democratic primary four years ago, but she hopes this is her year to first win the party nomination, then to move on and unseat Cloutier.
“I think we have had the same folks in office for quite some time. It’s time for a change, and it’s time for someone who has actually worked in the areas where we are having challenges, to step out there and be available for the people in New Castle County,” Bowers said.
In her case, Bowers believes her 21 years of experience in the Wilmington Police Department is relevant to significant challenges she often hears about as she speaks with voters. They include a rise in crime, and mounting obstacles for struggling businesses.
“If we let our businesses go into blight, that only invites crime to join us,” Bowers added. “That’s not what we want here in Brandywine Hundred. We want Brandywine Hundred to remain the beautiful place that it is”
Kyle Evans Gay, meanwhile, said the 2016 election result and resulting actions and policies from the White House started her thinking about running for office. She said she believes that effective change at the national level has to start at the local level. In Dover, Gay said she has been an advocate, as she has been in the courtroom.
“My job is to make sure that I work with people one on one to analyze their problem, see what we can do together, help them understand the legal system, be their voice and their advocate when they need it in that system,” Gay said. “I can do that in the same way for the folks in my district.”
Gay would be interested in exploring how to implement universal pre-kindergarten in Delaware. With many homes showing their age, Gay said infrastructure concerns, including the availability of clean and safe water, adequate roads and transportation, and a well-cared- for environment are critical to sustaining the character that the residents of the 5th District enjoy.
“I’m also hearing people tell me the things that have mattered to them for years will continue to matter to them when this pandemic is over, issues like affordable and accessible healthcare for everyone in our state,” Gay said. “That is something we need to work towards as one of many pieces of legislation that will help working families.”
Eric Levin was raised in Brandywine Hundred. He served as a constituent relations liaison for former Governor and Current US Senator Tom Carper. Levin taught on the high school and college levels, as an instructor in social studies and Introduction to American Politics. He now operates Tutoring Club of Wilmington.
“I’ve really, really grown distressed with what’s happened both locally and nationally with regards to the division in our overall society – locally and nationally – and I want to be a unifier,” Levin said
As he speaks with voters, Levin said he hears about funding concerns regarding education, aging infrastructure in the district, and the challenges facing small businesses that just want to keep going.
“I think you have to give voters a reason why you are different and why you will do a good job. You have to work very hard and I think that’s been the basis of my entire campaign,” Levin also said. “It’s telling voters how I’m different, how I will continue to invest in local issues, how this is not a national issue-based campaign – because I think that’s very important to voters.”
Bowers, meanwhile, now works in the field of substance abuse and mental health. She believes her loss to Cloutier four years ago helped to make her a better candidate.
“Now I have more experience. I’ve talked to more people that are involved in the campaign process. I know more people. That has really helped me. I remained in touch with those people since 2016, and it’s been very helpful,” Bowers said.
The 5th Senate District has nearly 5,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, with several thousand independents as well. Gay believes it’s a district that truly cares about certain values such as access to health care, civil rights, equal rights for women and LGBTQ Americans, and the issues raised by Black Lives Matter.
“The voters in District 5, I think, aren’t just ready to flip a district and a party. They are ready to have representation in Dover that works for them, with them and alongside them in seeking out all of those policy goals,” Gay said.
Gay added this will be a consequential election, as lawmakers start to figure out ways to resume meeting more often, consider more matters of importance, and engage with their constituents.
Levin also knows what’s at stake, and although he and the other candidates have had to resort more to telephone conversations and less of the personal visits and door-knocking, it’s still personal.
“It would be such a great honor to represent these folks. Some of these folks I’ve grown up with, and known my entire life.”
We’ll have more races to watch in the coming weeks here on The Green.