City government candidate forum to take place Tuesday

City Council Dorks
Mitchell Patterson/THE

(Top row from left to right) Jerry Clifton and Brandon Farzad. (Bottom row from left to right) Catherine Ciferni and Kasai Guthrie.

Associate News Editor

The League of Women Voters of New Castle County (LWVNCC) will host a debate at the Newark Senior Center on Tuesday night between the candidates for all of Newark’s contested elections.

The debate, which will be open to the public, will allow residents to ask questions directly to the candidates. Voters who head to the polls on April 9 will elect a new mayor, as well as District 1 and District 2 City Council members.

The mayoral candidates are current District 2 Council Member Jerry Clifton, undergraduate student Kasai Guthrie, university tutor Catherine Ciferni and Northrop Grumman engineer Brandon Farzad.

Farzad predicts residents will ask Guthrie, Ciferni and himself why they believe they are more qualified than Clifton, who has served on the Newark City Council for a total of 19 years, to succeed Polly Sierer as the next mayor. To this, Farzad wants to explain that Clifton’s time on council does directly translate into mayoral experience.

“All of us have the same number of years of experience actually, and that’s zero years,” Farzad said. “Let’s make that clear. None of the candidates have any experience being mayor, and no matter what they say, it’s not the same because if it was the same, then [Clifton] would simply run for council again. The fact that he’s running for mayor means that he knows that it’s inherently a different job, so saying you have experience doesn’t qualify.”

Farzad also expects voters to ask about his tax plan, which he plans to explain for the first time at the debate, and his dedication to the city, given that he moved here seven years ago.

Even though he has lived in the city for the least amount of time among the candidates, Farzad said that he plans on staying in Newark for the long run and raising a family here. He further affirmed his ties to the city, claiming that he is the candidate who best represents every group of people in Newark.

“I am the candidate who represents everyone and anyone in this city,” Farzad said. “This city is made up of homeowners, students, renters, old Newark, new Newark. I’ve been all of those things.”

Farzad said he owns a home in the city but has also rented in the past. He is currently working to complete his MBA at the university. Farzad also said his father’s history as a pizza shop owner contributes to his understanding of local small businesses.

Growing up in the college town of Binghamton, New York, Farzad said he also understands both the university and city’s concerns because he saw his hometown develop a similar set of issues with the rapid growth of its local college, Binghamton University.

While Farzad thinks the debate will primarily focus on taxes, Guthrie expects it will center on other issues entirely.

He predicted that the “Unruly Social Gathering Ordinance,” a law that the City Council recently passed that aims to reduce partying in residential neighborhoods, would be the most discussed topic.

Guthrie attributes issues like this to the lack of communication between locals and the university. He hopes debate attendees will view his undergraduate status as a possible tool to provoke open communication to solve these issues.

“Right now there is a huge split between the residents and the students,” Guthrie said. “What I’m trying to do is join those communities together by this common thread that they have. They both love Newark. They hate each other, but they both love Newark for their own separate reasons.”

Despite being 21 years old, Guthrie said he hopes to show he is the most qualified candidate by emphasizing his record of community service.

While in high school, Guthrie founded an organization called “We Need Our Fathers.” The campaign seeks to empower children who grew up in a single-mother household and assert the importance of having a father figure in one’s life.

Guthrie is a fresh face, but he thinks his youth could be an advantage.

“We can’t keep voting the same politicians into office and expecting change to happen when their record is showing no change has been happening,” Guthrie said.

Like Guthrie, Ciferni believes the “Unruly Social Gathering Ordinance” will be a major topic of discussion on Tuesday evening. She thinks locals will also want to discuss the parking, traffic and construction plans for potential hotels on Main Street.

Ciferni said she believes part of the city’s traffic problem comes from students’ inclination to drive from their hometowns to Newark and to continue using their cars while they are in the city.

She proposed increasing the efficiency of Newark’s public transportation to dissuade students and residents alike from driving when it may not be necessary.

The city and university maintain local bus routes, while SEPTA and Amtrak run trains out of the Newark Train Station. Ciferni hopes increasing the circulation frequency of these options and reanalyzing city inhabitants’ transportation habits will reduce the number of cars on the road.

“[I want voters to see me as] knowledge and solution-oriented, although maybe not always orthodox,” Ciferni said. “When it looks to solve problems, [Newark] tends to look at a very small universe. I think you have to widen that universe and widen that expertise.”

The locals who attend the debate will also be able to pose questions to the candidates for the first and second districts’ City Council seats.

The race for the first district’s seat pits incumbent Mark Morehead against James Horning, Jr., an attorney for Wilbraham, Lawler & Buba.

With Clifton running for mayor, Wells Fargo Mortgage Consultant Sharon Hughes and Maria Ruckle, a realtor for Keller Williams Realty, vie for his vacated position.

District 4 Council Member Chris Hamilton is also up for reelection, but he is running unopposed, so he will automatically assume office without a vote. In accordance with nonpartisan debate regulations, he will not participate in Tuesday’s event because he is an unopposed candidate.

The debate will take place in the senior center’s Evergreen Room. Doors are set to open at 6 p.m., and the event will start 15 minutes later. Carole Walsh, a LWVNCC member, will moderate the discussion.

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