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Bancroft, Lawhorn prevail in Newark City Council election

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Voters chose newcomer Jay Bancroft to serve as Newark’s District 3 councilman, while Councilman Jason Lawhorn earned his second term in District 5 on Tuesday night.

A retired entomologist from the Spring Hill neighborhood, Bancroft defeated Anthony Sinibaldi in the unusual election, which had been delayed for three months due to the pandemic and saw a record number of absentee ballots cast. He will replace Councilwoman Jen Wallace, who declined to seek a third term.

Bancroft received 289 votes, or approximately 61 percent, while Sinibaldi received 184.

“I’m very pleased that I’ll be able to try to do some good for the community,” Bancroft said Tuesday night.

He attributed his win in part to an endorsement from Wallace.

“It meant a lot,” he said. “I know she’s very well informed about the issues in the district, so it’s good to hear she thought maybe I could get up to snuff about things.”

During his campaign, Bancroft said he hoped to bring a data-driven approach to city government.

“I can bring analytic focus to the fiscal discipline that is needed to run the city,” he said.

He said that one of his first priorities as a councilman will be to take up the mantle from Wallace on police reform. Wallace recently called for appointing a task force of citizens to study ways to rethink policing in Newark.

Bancroft, 53, has called for passing legislation that would ban chokeholds, mandate violence de-escalation training, establish a database for police misconduct, and modify “qualified” immunity provisions that make it more difficult to prosecute police.

He becomes the third consecutive District 3 representative who has ties to Newark Residents Against the Power Plant, the grassroots group that successfully fought against the data center and power plant that were proposed for the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus in 2013.

Meanwhile, Lawhorn easily survived a challenge from Brian Anderson in order to continue serving as the District 5 councilman.

He received 412 votes, or 83 percent of the vote, compared to Anderson’s 85 votes.

A 43-year-old Fairfield resident, Lawhorn works as research manager for Advanced Materials Technologies in Wilmington and was first elected to council in 2018.

“It’s encouraging to know that the residents that I represent clearly feel that I’m doing a good job and representing their interests well, so that gives me confidence that I’m doing a good job, and I’m looking to continue to do that moving forward,” Lawhorn said Tuesday night.

He thanked Anderson for stepping forward to run for council.

“I think it’s extremely important we have contested elections. It brings out good ideas from incumbents and it challenges their thinking when they have to go through an election process to think about opposing thoughts and consider other opinions,” Lawhorn said. “It helps me as a representative to understand why he was running. I would encourage the people that voted for him to reach out to me to help me understand what they feel like I could do better.”

With the election over, he looks forward to focusing on city’s 2021 budget and the response to the pandemic.

“The first priority obviously is making sure the health and safety of our residents is taken care of, so we need to continue to work with the state and our local agencies to make sure we do everything we can to protect our residents from this COVID virus,” Lawhorn said. “The second part of that is working out our budget, so that from a fiscal standpoint, we’re taking care of our community.”

He said during the campaign that he hopes to use his second term to help the city create a strategic plan.

“Over the last few years, we’ve significantly improved how we prioritize issues and organized how we talk about them so that we’re a little more efficient,” he said. “Implementing a strategic plan creates a more informed plan that residents are engaged in, staff is engaged in, and council is engaged in, to create a clear and agreed-upon path forward for the city that will affect everything we do on a daily basis.”

In District 6, newcomer Travis McDermott ran unopposed and will replace Stu Markham, who is retiring after 14 years on council.

McDermott, 40, is a 19-year veteran of the New Castle County Police Department, where he serves as a lieutenant overseeing recruitment, professional development and the police academy.

When announcing his campaign earlier this year, he said he wants to keep development in check and believes he can use his law enforcement background to help keep Newark safe.

“I’ve always had an interest in serving the public,” McDermott said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to try to be the voice of the 6th district.”

The winners will be sworn in Aug. 6.

Tuesday’s election was a historic one for Newark, in that for the first time, the majority of votes were cast by mail.

Approximately 80 percent of the votes – a total of 785 –were done through absentee ballot.

Since the pandemic began, City Secretary Renee Bensley and her staff encouraged Newarkers to vote absentee rather than in person in order to avoid possible exposure to coronavirus at a polling place.

In March, prior to the original election date of April 14, they took the unusual step of proactively mailing absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the two contested districts – a total of approximately 6,000 people. After the election was rescheduled, they sent out a second application to voters who had not yet sent one in.

“My goal is to have as many people vote as have voted in past elections or more, with as few of them coming through a polling place as possible,” Bensley explained last month.

The plan worked because though the city had fully staffed polling places, they were largely quiet, with only a trickle of voters coming in throughout the day. Fewer than 100 people came to each of the two polling places.

The city received more than 1,100 applications for absentee ballots, but approximately 390 were not returned. Bensley noted that some of those people may have decided to vote in person instead.

Bensley had warned that the inordinate number of absentee ballots could delay the results, but that did not happen. Election judges began counting the ballots by hand at 5 p.m. Tuesday and completed their work in about an hour. The results were announced via an online livestream less than an hour after the polls closed.

The total turnout was 12.4 percent for District 3 and 23.6 percent for District 5. Both were slightly higher than the 2018 election.

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