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Outgoing Wilmington City Council members' advice to next session: 'Don't let it become personal'

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

Five Wilmington City Council members will not be on Council come January. They have some parting advice for the next Council. 

Among the outgoing members are Council’s first female president, Hanifa Shabazz, her relentless critic, Sam Guy, and the lone Republican, Ciro Adams—all of whom did not win re-election. Vash Turner, who ran unsuccessfully for City Treasurer this year, will also not return to Council.

Bud Freel retired after 23 years on Council. At his last meeting Thursday, he urged the next Council to respect each other.

“There will be times that you will disagree with a fellow member,” he said. “Disagreement is good, but don’t let it become personal. Name-calling is small and will divide the entire council.”

Freel said the 108th Council Session has an “incredible opportunity” to address equity issues in Wilmington — but will need a “unified voice” to succeed. He also advised the next Council to respect the legislative process.

“You will vote on hundreds of ordinances and resolutions over the next four years,” he said. “You cannot go wrong if every vote you cast is based strictly on the merits of the legislation.”

Freel called City Council an important check on the executive branch, but urged cooperation with the Mayor's office to address issues.

Hanifa Shabazz was elected to Council in 2004, but was a one-term president. She called her last term a “rough four years," referring to the division that became characteristic of the body.

“Of the 16 years I've been on Council, I’ve never experienced that type of interaction with professionals,” she said.

Shabazz said despite the “dysfunction,” she feels Council did “move the needle” under her leadership. She wants to see the Council focus on addressing racial disparities.

“Wilmington being a majority brown and Black [city], to have that represented on the legislative branch of government means a lot,” she said. “But it only means as much as we use that collective voice to ... be the voice of the minority population.”

Vash Turner said he looks forward to supporting the next City Council, the County and the state to “move Wilmington forward," but he struck a skeptical tone when addressing the incoming council members.

“Believe none of what you hear, half of what you see, and all of what you read,” he said.

Sam Guy, who frequently clashed with other members of Council and the Administration, characterized himself as a “watchman” in his last statement. He warned of what he called “outsiders” interfering in City government.

“The union reps, the elected officials, the chambers of commerce who use their money to purchase unwarranted influence over how the people of Wilmington are treated,” he said. “That is a significant threat to Wilmington.”

Guy urged the next Council to focus on the residents of the city.

“It’s always a fight if we do something to help the people. It’s not a fight if the monopolists want something,” he said. “We need to take a look at that.”

At-large Councilwoman Loretta Walsh was elected to an eighth term this fall. She blasted the dynamic of the 107th Council.

“This has been the strangest four years of my adult life,” she said. “I’ve never seen behavior that I saw toward each other from grown adults who are in charge. And quite frankly, I’m glad that the four years are up.”

Walsh said the fighting became personal, especially toward Shabazz.

“I hope [for] the rest of the Council going forward that some of the arguments of the last four years can be avoided.”

The outgoing members will be replaced by James Spadola, Nathan Field, Bregetta Fields, Maria Cabrera and Shané Darby.

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.
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