NCC Exec. Meyer announces run for governor
The two-term Democrat has long been considered a likely candidate after raising a huge sum of campaign funding in the last year and beginning to venture farther from the northern county to participate in events around the state.
In running to succeed the term-limited Gov. John Carney, however, Meyer will look to break a little-discussed streak: Delaware has never elected a New Castle County executive to the governor seat, despite running the state’s most populous county.
“Families are struggling with their rising costs everywhere. Our schools continue to perform at a rate that I don’t think represents Delaware well … You can come up with creative solutions, and you can execute them well. It takes a lot of work, but we did it well at the county. We think we can do it at the state,” he told Delaware Business Times in an interview.
To date, Meyer is the only candidate to have filed in the gubernatorial race, but other Democrats are sure to enter in the next few months. Potential candidates that have been discussed in insider circles include Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, Treasurer Colleen Davis or Attorney General Kathy Jennings.
Meyer said he likes his chances of coming from outside the state government.
“This culture of ‘It’s my turn’ doesn’t really produce the bold leadership that our state needs. The challenges are very real, and we’re going to develop a vision for the future of our state,” he said.
A Wilmington resident, Meyer is an Ivy League grad who moved to Africa to create a company that benefited locals, served as a U.S. diplomat in Iraq amid an active warzone, taught in Wilmington and Washington, D.C., inner city schools to aid children in need, and even earned a law degree and practiced at a high-profile business firm.
In 2016, he ran against three-term incumbent New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon and won a surprising upset. He spent his first four years in office cutting expenses, diversifying its administrative staff, making the government more responsive to citizens and businesses, and promoting innovative solutions. In 2020, he won his primary with 56% of the vote and didn’t face a Republican challenger.
Meyer led the county through the COVID-19 pandemic, negotiating an early deal for testing with Testing for America, introducing state leaders to their testing partner Curative, brokering a partnership with Delaware State University to quicken local testing capabilities, and participating in an innovative monitoring of municipal sewage for the virus with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“[The pandemic] was a ‘When you get the crisis call at two in the morning, who do you want leading you?’ kind of movement for me,” Meyer said. “There’s governing and leading in a time when the expected happens, and there’s governing and leading in a time when the unexpected happens. We’re willing to stand up our record running New Castle County against any record that’s out there.”
Over six years in office, Meyer has developed a reputation for outside-the-box thinking, including buying the former Sheraton South hotel and converting it into a homeless shelter and support service center or starting the state’s first pay-for-success grant program that requires evidence-based results for nonprofit programs before taxpayers foot a bill.
He credits that approach to a drive to tackle the challenges others shied away from and bringing together a team to solve them.
“When I taught it, there was an urgency to how I taught. When students came to my sixth-grade class, but were doing math or reading on a second or third-grade level, those were the students I wanted in my class,” he said.
Meyer’s experience teaching at the former Prestige Academy is likely to aid his discussion of Delaware’s recent challenges in public education, including its dismal statewide testing scores. If elected, he would be the first teacher to be governor in the state’s modern era.
“Arguably, the most important thing the governor does is oversee our education system. You can find countless teachers across the state who are regularly frustrated by elected officials standing up and saying things about education that just has no applicability in their classroom,” he said, noting that curriculums changed frequently even in the few years he taught students.
“A lot of this is looking at what teachers are doing and supporting them, encouraging them, and compensating them to do the good things and do it well,” he said.
For business leaders, Meyer’s tenure in New Castle has brought growing prosperity as major employers like Amazon, WuXi STA Pharmaceutical, Prelude Therapeutics, Incyte, and more have landed or expanded projects. His Jobs Now program for expediting reviews on the most-impactful job creation projects has been well-received by many major national developers who have arrived here.
In the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, Meyer even managed to pass the first property tax reduction for residents in 50 years.
“I believe in small business. I also may be the only governor in a while who’s actually started a couple of small businesses and had to figure out how to make payroll this week. How do I take an idea in my head and turn it into a product that we sell?” he said. “Just like we did with the county, we will have policies at the state that really encourage business growth and particularly small business growth.”
In kicking off the 2024 gubernatorial campaign, Meyer will start with a significant advantage in his war chest, having raised more than $1 million in campaign funding, according to his 2022 year-end report. That’s more than double what Gov. Carney had at the end of 2015 leading into his victorious 2016 campaign, and more than double what presumptive 2024 candidate Lt. Gov. Hall-Long has raised to date.
A review of Meyer’s campaign supporters shows a who’s who of major Delaware CEOs, developers, lawyers, restaurateurs and philanthropists who have already given the maximum $1,200 personal donations.
“What those finance numbers mean to me is that it’s a vision that has some traction that Delawareans are interested in investing in. And what we’ve seen so far this year is that they’re going to continue investing in our future, so we are not letting up on the gas pedal at all,” he said.