Meet the mayoral candidate: Jerry Clifton
Associate News Editor
This article is the first installment of a series profiling candidates for the mayor of Newark. The election will take place on April 9.
Jerry Clifton started his political career when he was nine years old.
When most kids were oblivious to governmental workings, Clifton, the Newark City Council Member from the second district, was already immersed in it, delivering political literature for Wilmington’s mayor, he said.
Clifton’s interest in politics stems from his father’s time at the Delaware News Journal, where Clifton said his father worked for 47 years.
“Through [my father], I got to know a lot of the people in public office, and I’ve always had an interest in it,” he said. “So I grew up around this.”
After almost two decades on the city council, Clifton is now running for a new position: mayor of Newark.
“I have 19 years of experience,” he said. “I have 19 years of institutional knowledge … There’s no substitute for institutional knowledge or just experience dealing with the issues that we have.”
Clifton said his take on government draws from his almost 21 years of service in the army and Delaware National Guard, where he learned the importance of leadership and collaboration.
“I think that we are going to have a more collaborative government,” he said. “The next mayor has got to to make this a team sport.”
Clifton, who described himself as fiscally conservative, said he occasionally has to vote in favor of costly projects because they are necessary to ensure the well-being of the city’s long term future. As a politician in a representative government, Clifton said he sometimes has to advocate for what his constituents want and need, rather than promote his personal agenda.
“The answers all aren’t sitting at the dais on council,” he said. “The answers are in the neighborhoods.”
Some of Clifton’s most notable stances include opposing the university’s acquisition of the Courtyard Apartments, expressing concern for potential lost business revenue during future Main Street construction and voting against increasing parking fees.
Though Clifton’s history is in city-level government, he has previously debated whether he should run for a seat in the state legislature. He said that when an opportunity to run for the legislature presented itself, he opted to continue serving on the city council because he thought the council’s services had an impact on residents’ daily life.
“Delawareans expect to have a strong connection with their government,” Clifton said. “That’s not a ‘nice-to-have.’ That’s a ‘must-have.’”
Protecting this connection and quality of daily life is one of Clifton’s frequent talking points, which ultimately leads to his search to better synthesize university students’ lives with permanent Newark residents’ lives.
Full-time residents frequently say the students’ partying hurts the community, however.
This frequent complaint led the city council to develop “The Unruly Gathering Ordinance,” which the council will read during next Monday’s meeting. Clifton said he hopes the ordinance, if passed, will prevent some of the city’s unlawful parties hosted both by students and permanent residents.
“We just want to have some teeth that, when those events occur, that the message sent that this isn’t acceptable behavior,” he said. “We welcome you into our town, but we want to know that you’re not going to be a burden on your neighbor. And quite frankly I think that is a reasonable request … You wouldn’t act that way if your grandmother lived next door.”
Clifton also wants to address developing more student housing to remedy the current deficit. He said he wants to do this by building newer housing close to campus without infringing upon local neighborhoods.
Clifton said that the university and Newark are intertwined. With that, he said he aims to assure both parties have the best possible experience while they live here.
“I think the initial [reason to run for mayor] is to preserve the quality of life in the city,” Clifton said. “But with that being said, you can’t remain stagnant. Just as we were looking at ‘The Unruly Gathering Ordinance,’ it’s a matter of collaborating with the most important stakeholders, the residents, and listening to their concerns and moving forward with what they see are the issues.”
Clifton, who has lived in Newark since 1992, said local politicians should be the cheerleaders of the town, always pushing it to grow.
“The work is far from being done, and it’ll never be done, no matter who the mayor is, because we’re a progressive city, and we’re always going to be moving forward,” Clifton said. “I look back. I’m proud of what we’ve done, and one thing about Newarkers: they got a lot of pride in the past, but they have more faith in the future.”
This story originally appeared in print on February 19.