Type to search

Government New Castle County News

Carney aims to put Wilmington on “better path” in his campaign

Katie Tabeling

Gov. John Carney, seen here in 2021, is making a historic move to run for mayor of Wilmington after he leaves the state’s highest office. He sees it as a new challenge and he’s up for the task. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

WILMINGTON  — While no Delaware governor has run to be elected as Wilmington’s next mayor, John Carney is no stranger to running campaigns or local government.

Carney’s career in politics traces back to working as a deputy chief aide to then-Govenor Tom Carper. His first race was in 2000, when he was elected lieutenant governor to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. After a brief turn as CEO of an energy firm, Carney returned to politics again in 2010, holding the state’s lone congressional seat. Years later, he ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination for governor, and the rest is history.

Now, he’s running for mayor of Delaware’s largest and most diverse cities in an unprecedented campaign. No governor in Delaware has run for mayor after leaving the governor’s mansion and it’s still a rare sight across the country.

“I actually don’t think it’s a step down. I like to think it’s a step up, since it’s a difficult job and it’s important in terms of the success of our state,” Carney told the Delaware Business Times. “We have most of the vulnerable people in Delaware living in the city who need our support and a better path to the future.”

In his final months as governor, Carney, 68, has been spending time with his campaign staff knocking on doors in Wilmington and listening to what people have to say. He said that while much work has been done by the current Purzycki administration in terms of business revitalization, he sees his role as a continuation of a career in public service — and perhaps changing what a traditional mayor will do.

In particular, Carney is still concerned about education as only 40% of students between third to eighth grade scoring proficient rates on reading tests statewide. He launched the Wilmington Learning Collaborative to create a set of policies and initiatives to address education issues across northern Delaware schools. That group has just started its work this year.

“In education, a mayor doesn’t have an official role. But there’s an opportunity for a bully pulpit. I know the players very well through the work of the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, and I know what we need to focus on,” he said. “I hope we can partner with our parks department to do more after school and summer to support our educators.  If people knew about our scores, they would be as upset as I am.”

When it comes to the business community, Carney is concerned about the office vacancy rate in the city which is reported to be between 25% and 35%. Carney would also have to reckon with Wilmington’s unemployment rate which was 5.1% as of April, the second highest in the state behind Dover and well above the state and national average of 3.9%.

He finds the issue of Wilmington’s wage tax also a fiscal policy matter. For example, Morris James relocating its headquarters out of the city shined a light on how important the maintaining the legal community here, not just to handle the sources of cases before the Court of Chancery, but also to maintain an employment base.

“We recently passed legislation that increases the city’s revenue from incorporation fees and it’s a $5 million plus contribution,” he said. “The big announcement from Incyte is going to be a big game changer for us. It’s amazing what’s happened at [Incyte so far] and they have close to a thousand people.”

Carney also pointed to the possibility of the last Bank of America building being turned into an education complex, as proposed by the Longwood Foundation, bringing thousands  of people to Wilmington, and more revenue in employment tax. But that plan needs another $13 million to lift off the ground.

“To have the little hits we’ve had, the grand slams like Incyte and things happening outside the city is part of what makes the city a commercial hub,” he added. “You need to strengthen the current environment to bring business here. When we compete against other states, the real issue is whether you will have the people you can hire. And young people with advanced degrees are thinking about where they’re going to live, where the restaurants and bars are at. It’s all businesses, but it’s harder to do with small businesses because everyone is different.”

To that end, he said that if elected mayor, his goal would be to ensure that small businesses graduate to larger spaces in Wilmington, be it from an incubator space like The Mill to another retail space in the city. Each area of Wilmington is different and has its own share of complex issues for revitalization.

“There’s not even as much focus on the Riverfront anymore, because it’s been successful. They have about 4,200 jobs and 2,100 people living there. It’s a lot of tax revenue. But now people are looking at the other side of the river for redevelopment for Southbridge. It’s going to be a different kind of development. If we take a holistic approach to the city, it’ll be a big answer to it.”

That holistic approach also extends to public safety which Carney deemed his No. 1 priority, if elected. He would work to continue the existing work of the Group Violence Intervention (GVI), which brings law enforcement and community groups together to identify shooters or potential shooters. The program leaders then meet with perpetrators in a group setting to offer therapy, jobs, education or other resources as an alternative to jail time.

Carney said other layers would include more youth programs to keep kids out of gangs as well as a strong enforcement action. He also pointed to the recently-passed legislation that would require Delawareans who want to buy a handgun to be fingerprinted, undergo training and other permissions.

“It’s a very small percentage of the population, but when you live in that neighborhood, especially if you’re one of the elderly, you can become a prisoner in your own home,” he said. “You need to have a closer relationship with the schools because that’s where the kids are. But we have to get the guns off these streets.”

In his experience door knocking in the last few weeks, he’s heard complaints from Wilmingtonians about infrastructure and quality of life issues, including road improvement and sewer infrastructure. 

In one stop along his career, he worked for now President Joe Biden in constituent services, shepherding calls from citizens to the right state agency to handle issues. If elected as the next mayor of Wilmington, Carney plans to take that experience as point man to good use.

“As mayor, my job would be to make sure that system works, and I also have to create a customer-driven atmosphere where every complaint is prioritized,” he said. “I don’t run sewer systems or police the streets. My job is to put people in the palace to do those jobs and hold them accountable. That’s going to be an important part of the job if I’m fortunate enough to be elected.”


Get the free DBT email newsletter  

Follow the people, companies and issues that matter most to business in Delaware.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Premier Digital Partners

© 2024 Delaware Business Times

Flash Sale! Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%.

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.


Subscribe to Delaware Business Times and save 50%