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Races to Watch: Two Wilmington Democrats seek 1st State House District seat

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Delaware Public Media

Delaware Public Media is highlighting a series of “Races to Watch,” with races in the upcoming September primary as part of the station’s 2022 election coverage.

In the 1st State House District, two Wilmington Democrats with similar resumes face off for the party’s nomination in the September 13th primary.

This week, Delaware Public Media’s Mark Fowser breaks down the race and what you need to know about both candidates.

Delaware Public Media’s Mark Fowser breaks down the primary race for the 1st State House District seat

The two Democratic contenders in the Wilmington-based First House District share a few things in common.

Representative Nnamdi Chukwuocha and candidate Shane’ Darby have served on Wilmington City Council, where Darby Still represents the 2nd District. Both have a background of military service – Darby is an active member of the Army National Guard and Chukwuocha is a U.S. Army infantry veteran.

Also, both are involved with helping youth. Chukwuocha is a licensed master social worker. Darby has been a child behavioral therapist and established Black Mothers in Power, a nonprofit that operates statewide.

They differ on who is best to move the district and the state forward.

Chukwuocha was first elected to the House in 2018. He said among his top accomplishments was being able to co-lead the legislative drive with State Senator Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman to create the Redding Consortium for Educational Equity to examine inequities that face schools, particularly in Wilmington and northern New Castle County.

“I really view it as experience. I view it as one that is truly trying to push our district forward by uniting our district and one that really seeks to highlight the growth and development that we’ve seen over the past few years with my leadership in Dover and to continue that – to continue bringing our state resources into our district to address many of the challenges that we face.”
Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Democratic State Rep.

“We really need a student-centered formula that allows us to fund our schools based on the needs that they have and provide us with just certainty that the dollars are being used the right way inside the schools to meet the students’ needs and help push them forward,” Chukwuocha said.

Darby said the number of districts statewide needs to be examined.

“I think as a state we have too many districts. Even as a city, our kids are broken up into four public school districts, and then let’s count the charter and the private schools. Our kids are divided up so much,” Darby said.

Darby said she was drawn into elected office by some of her own life experiences in Wilmington. She grew up in the 1st Representative District, and as a young mother went about trying to find quality day care and schools, employment and a place to live – “having these different life experiences.”

Darby said she had not given thought to running for state office until early July. She was away in June as part of her paralegal duties with the Delaware National Guard and upon her return she began to receive messages urging her to run against Chukwuocha. The chief issue was an eminent domain bill backed by Chukwuocha that was supported by the Purzycki Administration.

The bill would “authorize the City of Wilmington to acquire vacant or abandoned property through the exercise of eminent domain when an ordinance declares the acquisition part of a community development plan necessary to prevent the decline or decay of the property or its surrounding area.”

According to Darby, this amounted to a totally different purpose of eminent domain, and it was something that the community did not support.

“But the community said ‘no, this is too rushed. You’re not allowing for community input.’ That is the problem. As a legislator, as a public servant, your legislation should have community input and community backing. If it doesn’t, you pause and say “how can I get your input in this, because I really believe in this bill,’” Darby said.

Chukwuocha said that during this discussion, eminent domain was somewhat mischaracterized as taking something from someone and giving it to someone else.

“We were trying to create a category for usage of eminent domain that could benefit community development,” Chukwuocha said, adding that the district has vacant properties which have owners that have no interest in fixing them up.

“It’s still a goal. We’re hoping that we can continue to work with the city administration and City Council to get a firmer understanding about how and when it can be used. Why it’s really being proposed, again, is for community development,” Chukwuocha added.

Chukwuocha is pleased with progress made on gun safety. Bills passed just this session would outlaw high-capacity magazines, increase the age for buying most firearms from 18 to 21, and define and restrict or outlaw “assault weapons.”

“Every single day inside of our City of Wilmington, our police officers are pulling illegal guns off the streets – every day, I’m not exaggerating,” Chukwuocha said. “There’s such a rampant flow.”

The General Assembly acted upon the firearms bills after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas. However, Darby said communities such as Wilmington deal with gun violence in a different way, as opposed to mass shootings.

Darby said gunshots have been heard from the area of her daughter’s bus stop.

On the issue of police accountability, Darby said there is more to do in the area of creating civilian review boards and dramatically overhauling the law enforcement officer’s bill of rights.

“The community, they’re asking for community review boards. The community is asking for LEOBOR reform, repeal, or LEOBOR change. Hold police officers accountable who have inappropriate behavior,” Darby said.

“I am not in this for anything other than I love my city, I love being a Wilmingtonian, I love being a Delawarean and I think that we can do better. I think there are people that can go down there and be a voice for the community and to make those policies that make sense – that make sense for everybody.”
Shané Darby, Wilmington 2nd District Council Member

Chukwuocha said he is “optimistic and hopeful” moving forward, because the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus created a partnership, or entity, with Delaware State University to carry on the work of LEOBOR reform and other priorities.

As the September 13th primary draws closer, the candidates are making their appeals to Democratic voters and highlighting their differences, although they share some similarities.

“I really view it as experience,” Chukwuocha said. “I view it as one that is truly trying to push our district forward by uniting our district and one that really seeks to highlight the growth and development that we’ve seen over the past few years with my leadership in Dover and to continue that – to continue bringing our state resources into our district to address many of the challenges that we face.”

“I am not in this for anything other than I love my city, I love being a Wilmingtonian, I love being a Delawarean and I think that we can do better,” Darby said. “I think there are people that can go down there and be a voice for the community and to make those policies that make sense – that make sense for everybody.”

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican Mark Prescott Gardner in the November General Election.

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