Professor turns retirement into race for state legislature


John Mackenzie has spent his time teaching at the university since 1985. An associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, Mackenzie’s time at the university will come to a close when he runs for state legislature in hopes of representing the 22nd district.

Although the beginning of the campaign is right around the corner, Mackenzie is not focused on it just yet.

John Mackenzie
John Mackenzie

“When I’m on the job, I’m on the job,” Mackenzie said. “My focus this semester has been finishing up a really strong semester.”

Mackenzie’s last day is May 31, although he will technically be an employee for another year. The university has a terminal year sabbatical program in which Mackenzie will be on sabbatical while continuing receiving paychecks until 2015.

The birth of Mackenzie’s grandchild led him to reconsider what he was doing with his life, he said.

“I woke up six months ago, a year ago, when I became a grandfather and turned 60, and I said ‘I didn’t mean to spend all of my life here,’” Mackenzie said.

This is not Mackenzie’s first time running for state legislature. In 2008, he ran as the Democratic candidate for state Senate and was one percent short of winning, translating to 366 votes. Prior to the race, Mackenzie served seven years on the Christina School Board––an elected position––over a decade ago.

Mackenzie’s time on the school board is when a passion for school reform emerged, he said.

“I became pretty knowledgeable about impediments and frustrating attempts to make schools better,” Mackenzie said. “There were systemic problems that were beyond the capacity of a school board member or the majority to solve and really needs to be addressed legislatively.”

When he announced his decision to run for a second time, the university had no reaction, Mackenzie said, as part of the university’s desire to stay separated from any type of partisan politics. He said his colleagues at the university have been supportive nonetheless.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach (D-West Newark) said he has known Mackenzie since 2008, when Baumbach was chair of Progressive Democrats. Baumbach, who is running for reelection, said Mackenzie’s experiences from the previous race will help him with this one.

“I think a big advantage he has is he has run in that area as Senate district before so he is comfortable opening a lot of doors and doing hard work,” Baumbach said.

Mackenzie said he has four main goals he hopes to accomplish if he wins the race. Among his focus points are school reform, elimination of the death penalty, shortfalls in the transportation trsut fund and Gov. Jack Markell’s Clean Water Initiative.

Mackenzie said he is also hoping to better protect the natural amenities of the 22nd district, including a parts of White Clay Creek and Pike Creek.

Mackenzie will be running against Republican incumbent Joe Miro, a former Newark High School Spanish teacher who has been in office for 16 years. In addition to Miro, Mackenzie will also be running against Steve Newton representing the Libertarian Party.

Baumbach said the race for the 22nd District should be one of the more interesting races in the state as there are three candidates running from three different parties.

“It gives voters good choices, and all good people are running for all the right reasons,” Baumbach said. “It should be pretty notable.”

Both Baumbach and Mackenzie said while the people in the district associate with different political parties, it is pretty nonpartisan when it comes to voting.

Senior Audrey Peo is working alongside Mackenzie as a volunteer on his campaign after hearing about it during his office hours.

For her part, Peo has been helping put photos together and said she will be doing more once she graduates and the campaigning begins.

“I’ll be helping with door-to-door, spreading awareness and going through different campaign strategies with him,” Peo said.

Peo said she encourages other students to take part in Mackenzie’s campaign.

Mackenzie said he is looking for students to volunteer throughout the summer and fall. As for his time at the university, Mackenzie said it has been a great place to work.

“It has been an incredible privilege,” Mackenzie said. “I’m a lucky person to have the opportunity to be on the faculty at a university like this. It’s probably the sweetest job ever.”

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