Newark City Council Elections: Lawhorn keeps his seat, joined by newcomers Bancroft and McDermott
After a three-month delay due to the coronavirus, Newarkers went to the polls Tuesday night to finally elect their City Council members for the third, fifth and sixth districts. Although fewer than 100 ballots were cast in person, and the remainder voted via mail, this election’s turnout rate was no lower than the 2018 elections.
Newcomer Jay Bancroft, 53, won a comfortable victory in the District 3 race over his opponent, Anthony Sinibaldi. Incumbent Jason Lawhorn, 43, who was first elected to the District 5 council seat in 2018, will serve another term after defeating challenger Brian Anderson. In District 6, Travis McDermott, 40, ran unopposed to succeed Stu Markham, who chose to retire from his 14-year tenure on the council.
The results were livestreamed from the council chambers at City Hall on Tuesday night. In District 3, the vote was tallied at 289 for Bancroft and 184 for Sinibaldi. In District 5, Lawhorn scored 412 votes to Anderson’s 85.
“I think it reinforces that I’m representing my constituents well and communicating with them well,” Lawhorn said. “Improving the staff efficiency and the organization of how [the council] runs our meetings so that we’re more productive as a government, I think that was the most significant thing from my term.”
On July 22, University President Dennis Assanis declared that the vast majority of students would not be returning to campus for this upcoming semester due to the coronavirus pandemic. One of Lawhorn’s key aims now is to develop Newark’s 2021 budget and its response to the outbreak.
“The first thing is that we need accurate, reliable data,” Lawhorn said. “We need to understand the impact that will be felt by the reduction in our population due to less students coming to town and to understand the impact on our businesses being restricted by the limitations imposed for the pandemic. Depending on how long [the pandemic] lasts, we may need to take a look at our capital projects and suspend some that we had been planning for a while.”
Bancroft’s election marks the departure of council member Jen Wallace, who stepped down this year instead of seeking a third term. Wallace endorsed Bancroft as her successor, which Bancroft believes was significant in his winning 61% of the vote.
Bancroft’s claim to replace Wallace also stems from their shared involvement in the grassroots movement “Newark Residents Against the Power Plant” in 2013. Wallace was a leader of this group, which successfully opposed the power plant that was to be built on the university’s STAR Campus. Having won Tuesday’s election with his grassroots bona fides, Bancroft will likely continue the progressive role left by Wallace.
Now that he has a chance to step up to bat, Bancroft has said that he hopes to continue Wallace’s police reform agenda.
On June 24, Wallace proposed the creation of a committee to explore means of reallocating funds and responsibilities away from the Newark Police Department to other offices. Bancroft’s platform included a proposal to ban police chokeholds, mandate violence de-escalation training for the entire department, establish a public database for police misconduct and to remove some of the legal barriers making it difficult for civilians to sue police officers.
“I think council needs to be more educated in regards to what our police force currently does before suggesting changes to what they do,” Lawhorn said regarding Wallace’s proposal. “Our police department has been recognized as one of the most progressive and effective. Many of the suggestions being made around the country for how to reform the police, Newark police implemented many years ago.”
Before running for the District 6 seat, McDermott was a 19-year veteran of the New Castle County Police Department. He oversees recruitment, professional development and the police academy.
“I think he’ll be a tremendous resource,” Lawhorn said. “He will have a great perspective. What’s great, and what I think is important, is that [the] council has a diverse group of people who bring diverse perspectives on how we can improve.”