Two of the four Democratic candidates for New Castle County Executive – incumbent Paul Clark and former top man Tom Gordon – have clashed repeatedly during several recent debates.
The men have been going trading barbs about ethics, with Gordon taking swipes at Clark’s land use decisions, but defending himself against racketeering charges made against him stemming from his time in office.
In a debate hosted by WDEL Aug. 14 at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, Clark repeatedly told Gordon to, “open that case book and show everyone there wasn’t a problem in New Castle County government,” and Gordon asked Clark how much money his wife made while working as a land use attorney during his council presidency.
In 2004, Gordon was indicted on federal racketeering charges stemming from having county workers work on political campaigns. He later pled guilty to a two misdemeanors that did not carry jail time.
“The way public sees county government is still a problem today,” Clark said at the Aug. 14, alluding to Gordon’s legal transgressions.
When Clark was council president, his wife worked as a land use attorney, representing major developers in New Castle County, including Keith Stoltz. Clark’s opponents have accused him of manipulating the land use department during this time changing county code and skirting traffic impact studies on major projects.
Clark said that these accusations are not true and that his wife stepped down from her job once he became county executive.
Bill Shahan, who has worked in county government for 32-years, and Jon Husband, a 28-year public service employee, are also running in the Sept. 11 primary for county executive.
“My biggest concern is the future,” Shahan said at the WDEL debate. “What happened yesterday, happened yesterday. The problem is what we have now.”
During the WDEL forum Aug. 14, both Shahan and Husband said their experience on the front lines of county government would be beneficial in office. They both also said that a common misconception of them is that they are unknown.
“I have worked with a lot of groups and have accomplished a lot of projects,” Husband said.
At odds over public safety
At a Monday forum hosted by the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association (GHADA) and moderated by Middletown Transcript Editor Jesse Chadderdon, the spotlight was back on Clark and Gordon when they went at each other over ethical issues.
Clark confronted Gordon Monday telling him that he makes wild exaggerations.
“You need to open the record of your case file that was sealed,” he said.
Gordon retorted that Clark should release his tax returns to let the public decide whether his wife profited from county land use decisions.
The men also debated public safety at the GHADA event. The Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Gordon after protesting a 2.5 percent cut in benefits that was approved by Clark.
“Public safety is not the place to save money,” Gordon said.
In March, an arbitrator sided with the Clark administration on a contract cutting 2.5 percent from each FOP member’s compensation concession. The concessions were taken from floating holidays and a health care surcharge.
When Clark gave the fiscal year 2013 budget address earlier this year, dozens of FOP members showed up in protest of his decision.
During the GHADA debate, Gordon said that New Castle County had the “greatest police force in the United States” during his tenure.
But Clark criticized Gordon for only having up to 325 officers on the force during his time in office, between 1997 and 2004.
Gordon said that he would like to get the force up to 370 officers.
“I made a concentrated effort to run two [police academy] classes,” Clark said. “Extra money goes into overtime.”
Civil at the Civic League
The mood was calmer Tuesday at a forum held at Delaware State Police Troop 2, which was hosted by the Civic League for New Castle County.
At one point, Clark even said that he agreed with Gordon on an issue. Both men agreed that if the county’s real estate transfer tax – its second largest form of revenue – declines, then the government needs to cut spending.
“It’s a shocker, but I agree with [Gordon] on this,” Clark announced.
Democratic candidates for county council president Renee C. Taschner and Chris Bullock also sat on Tuesday’s panel.
The winner of their primary will contest Republican Mike Protack in the November general election. They, along with the four county executive candidates, answered questions about community character.
“Community character has to be determined by the people in the community,” Bullock said Tuesday.
He also told the crowd that if elected council president he would have an open door policy to give civic associations and the community a voice.
“We all want New Castle County to remain beautiful,” Taschner said.
On Monday, both candidates also got a chance to voice their opinions at the GHADA debate. Taschner and Bullock both said that they would support increasing the county’s police force. Taschner said to pay for it, she would introduce an early retirement package that would entice senior staff members leave the government. Bullock said that he would study the budget to see where money could be shifted.
The Delaware Democratic party has endorsed Taschner for the position. She has 21 years of law enforcement experience.
Bullock is the founder and a Pastor at the Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle and has worked in the community for decades.
Current County Council President Tom Kovach is not seeking reelection. He is running as the Republican nominee against U.S. Rep. John Carney.
The winner of the Democratic county executive primary will face Republican Mark Blake in the general election.