Races to Watch: 12-Year incumbent challenged in 6th House District Democratic Primary
As part of our 2022 Election coverage, Delaware Public Media is highlighting a series of “Races to Watch,” starting with races in the upcoming September primary.
This week, we head to New Castle County – specifically in one North Wilmington House district where Democrats have a choice this year: go with an incumbent or make a change to carry the party forward to the November General Election.
Delaware Public Media’s Mark Fowser breaks down the House District 6 primary race.
In next month’s Delaware primary, Democratic voters in one north Wilmington House district have a choice this year: to go with an incumbent who first ousted a Republican in 2010, or to make a change to carry the party forward in the November election.
The 6th District stretches from Edgemoor to other Wilmington suburbs. Bellefonte is the only municipality in the district.
For 12 years, the district has been represented by Representative Debra Heffernan, former President of the Brandywine Board of Education and an experienced environmental toxicologist. She is opposed on September 13th by Becca Cotto, who ran her own business and actively volunteered with political campaigns and is now YWCA Director of Racial and Social Justice.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m passionate about racial justice. I’m tired of waiting for real systemic change to happen,” Cotto said.
According to Cotto, key proposals surrounding police accountability – civilian review boards, reforming the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights, and opening up police misconduct records – became watered down through attempted compromise. She added that the proposals were reviewed, gathered wide community support, and were right in front of lawmakers – including her opponent.
"As a human being, if you have the power to do something, to prevent something or at least expose something around police misconduct, why would you not take that opportunity?”Becca Cotto, District 6 primary candidate and YWCA Director of Racial and Social Justice
“As a human being, if you have the power to do something, to prevent something or at least expose something around police misconduct, why would you not take that opportunity?” Cotto added.
Heffernan said she was driven to seek state office after her experience with the Brandywine Board of Education, a district where she is also a parent with three children, one of whom had special needs.
“It drew me into understanding that the education system wasn’t equal for everyone,” Heffernan said.
Before being elected to the Brandywine School Board, Heffernan formed the Brandywine School District Special Needs PTA. In the House, Heffernan said she has continued to be an advocate for children of special needs, as well as those from lower-income backgrounds and underserved communities.
Heffernan has sponsored, cosponsored or been a key supporter of several high-profile pieces of legislation, ranging from the Healthy Delaware Families Act (paid family and medical leave) to environmentally-focused legislation such as curtailing PFAS, so-called forever chemicals, in drinking water supplies. A bill she sponsored also codified reproductive rights in Delaware, which becomes more important now that the US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade.
However, identifying and addressing concerns of the people in the 6th District is what drives Heffernan to put in what she claims is full-time for what’s considered a part-time position.
“Constituent service is really my passion,” Heffernan said, adding that parks, potholes and drainage issues are just a few of the concerns that are brought to her attention.
Cotto, who claimed to have knocked on more than 8,000 doors by early August, said she heard different concerns in different parts of the district. Some were troubled by unsafe roads and the speeding in Delaware. Schools, education, support for teachers and the environment also frequently came up. Heffernan said while jobs and inflation are current concerns, the core concerns are also gun safety, public safety, students’ mental health and education – as well as the environment.
“One of the things I think people also think about is climate change. That’s one of the biggest problems for our state, because we’re the lowest-lying state,” Heffernan said.
However, Senate Bill 305, the Delaware Climate Change Solutions Act, could not advance in the House Natural Resources Committee that is chaired by Heffernan as the session was winding down in June. She said she is committed to passing a comprehensive climate change bill, with enforceable goals.
“I believe that we are ready, and I believe that we shouldn’t wait any longer to get this done,” Heffernan said.
“One of the things I think people also think about is climate change. That’s one of the biggest problems for our state, because we’re the lowest-lying state."State Representative Debra Heffernan, 6th District
Heffernan and Cotto are each in support of a Green Amendment.
Cotto is running under the banner of “Becca Cotto for Change.” Heffernan, meanwhile, said she’s been told – and has adopted the hashtag – “Deb gets it done.”
Heffernan would like to “just keep getting things done for my constituents.” She cited drainage projects, potholes, street paving, helping people with unemployment issues through the COVID-19 pandemic and helping people apply for mortgage assistance.
“We help with everything.”
Cotto reflected about the time spent on the front porches of so many people and just talking. “We talked policy. We talked life.”
There has been crying, there has been laughter –and much talk about kids.
“There is just so much out there out there… I just love connecting with the community. It’s just really been a wonderful experience for me, I have to say.”