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Races to Watch: GOP candidates vye for Wilmington City Council seat

Delaware Public Media

Down ballot on Election day is a race for four at-large positions on Wilmington City Council.

The city charter allows no more than three to come from one political party, and since registered Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in Wilmington – the three Democrats on the ballot are likely to earn seats.

That leaves three GOP candidates hoping to become - in all likelihood - the only Republican on city council.

Ciro Adams, Calvin Brown and James Spadola are the three GOP candidates seeking to be the minority party representative. Ronnell Page has also filed as an Independent Party of Delaware candidate.

Adams, the incumbent, won by 11 votes in a recount in 2016, four years after an unsuccessful campaign. A CPA by profession, he highlighted his pro-business voting record during his term.

"I feel that we overregulate business quite often here in the city and you want businesses to pick Wilmington to work in - not New Castle County," Adams said. "The biggest thing that holds us back here in the city is talent pool, and actually the genesis of every problem in the City of Wilmington is the lack of a Wilmington school district." 

Credit Calvin Brown campaign
Calvin Brown

Brown, a lifelong resident of Wilmington, lives in Hilltop above his barber shop and across the street from the church where he is a pastor.

"I've spent a lot of time in social issues, working with the community, young people and church events. And, I'm just trying to, I think, insert some civility as well as some leadership in City Council," Brown said.

If elected, Brown said one of the first things he would like to do is to round up his colleagues and the Mayor for a bus tour of all sections of the city. "I want to take them around. I want to walk these streets - what we're asking the police to do, I think we can improve the climate for law enforcement to do a better job," Brown added.

Spadola is currently Executive Director of Read Aloud Delaware and president of his neighborhood's civic association. He also has chaired the board of the Wilmington Housing Authority. In addition to seeing a role on City Council as a natural extension of what he's been doing in the city, Spadola also sees a need on Council for "change - desperate change."

"We need pragmatic and reasonable people on there that can move the city forward and not focus on their own ego," Spadola said.

"I'm somebody who's had great relationships with Republicans, Democrats, Independents because they know I'm an ideas-over-party type of guy," Spadola added.

All three candidates have service backgrounds: Adams in the Marine Corps, Brown in the Air Force, and Spadola with the US Army.

Credit James Spadola campaign
James Spadola

Spadola additionally was a Newark Police officer who gained notoriety when he and a partner walked with a sign offering free hugs, resulting in a viral video.

That experience, he says, gives him insight into one of Wilmington's most challenging problems: crime and violence, which, like many other urbam areaa, is on the rise this year. The increase in shootings comes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and at a time when police conduct is also being more closely watched than ever before.

"You can't have public safety without criminal justice reform," Spadola said, adding that many cases unlawful or excessive use of force seemed to stem from minor encounters.

Brown, raised in Riverside, said part of the solution to violence lies in education, and said City Council should lobby the state for more resources.

Adams also drew a connection between violence and education, again pointing to the lack of a Wilmington school district. He also noted that his reform platform includes broader adoption of body cameras and a strict limitation on no-knock warrants.

"Unless you can feel safe and secure in your home and on your street and your block, you might as well not live here in the City of Wilmington - and that's sad," Adams said.

Spadola is also concerned about Wilmington's short-and-long-term budget challenges as more people work from home and there are fewer things happening to lure visitors.

"One, you have the immediate hit on the city wage, but that's less people to come into the city, to go to Market Street. So, the arts are almost the last resort in that regard - we need the arts to keep people coming into the city," Spadola said.

Brown, who grew up with 14 brothers and sisters on Wilmington's east side, recalled a time when there were five movie theatres downtown, and people wanted to be in the city. He praised Mayor Purzycki's leadership on riverfront development (a responsibility Purzycki had before he was elected), but believes more is possible.

"I think we've got to not only develop business, but we've got to develop the cultural, the arts and make the city something that you want to live in," Brown said.

Credit City of Wilmington
Ciro Adams

All three Republicans running would be happy to see more than one GOP candidate get elected, but they realize the odds are against that.

So, they campaign hard - even during a pandemic.

"Now, we're out and about - and again, I'm not somebody who's new to Wilmington," Spadola said. "People think I'm on Council already. Aside from knocking on doors, campaigning to me is doing what I would have been doing anyway."

Spadola knows campaigning well.  Two years ago, he ran statewide for State Auditor.

Brown has also run previously for the State House of Representatives and New Castle County Council. He said, however, this race feels like the right fit for him.

"Right now, I think this is the best opportunity for me," Brown said. "This is closer to all of my experiences, because I'm a city boy. And the one thing I do know is Wilmington, Delaware."

Serving on Council, Adams said, has made him even more passionate about the city.

"It's a beautiful place - talk a walk around," Adams said. "We have a beautiful city, and we have nice people here."

"Why wouldn't you want to live in a beautiful place with nice people?"

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