With an interest in conservation and improving the city’s finances, Fairfield resident Brian Anderson is seeking his first term on city council.
Anderson, 78, is challenging District 5 incumbent Jason Lawhorn, who was elected in 2018. District 5 is located in the northwest part of the city and includes Christianstead, West Branch, Fairfield, Fairfield Crest, Terry Manor, most of New London Road and surrounding areas.
A native of Chicago, Anderson moved to Newark decades ago to take a job as supplemental programs coordinator for the Newark School District, a predecessor of the Christina School District.
His career as an educator has also included stints at the University of Illinois, American University, Temple University and Lincoln University. He worked at the White House twice, once as an intern during Lyndon Johnson’s administration and again as part of the National Commission on the International Year of the Child during Jimmy Carter’s administration.
Anderson said he was prompted to run for office because of dissatisfaction with how council manages its budget, arguing the city spends too much money on contracted services.
He added that he is “disappointed” by Lawhorn, who he doesn’t feel is accessible, and was also dismayed that council did not take into consideration his proposal for preserving trees. Last year, Anderson suggested council charge developers a percentage of construction costs in order to create a landscape preservation trust fund, which would be used to relocate mature trees from development sites to other areas of the city.
Anderson said that because he is retired, he would be able to be a “fulltime councilman.” He added that, if elected, he would seek to establish an office somewhere in the district where constituents could visit with him at a set time each week.
“I think the councilperson for the fifth councilmanic district needs to keep them informed and not just hold one or two meetings,” he said.
Anderson said one of his top priorities would be pushing the city to take action to preserve the Newark Country Club, which is currently considering a deal to sell to Lang Development Group. The deal would guarantee the club’s preservation for 10 or 20 years, but after that, the land could be developed.
“For Newark, the only large swaths of land available at this point in time is the country club, and it would be a shame, for recreational and also environmental issues, to lose that open space,” he said.
He proposed designating the property as a conservation district and approaching nonprofits to purchase the land, though he noted Newark taxpayers would likely have to “have some skin in the game” as well.
The idea would likely need the cooperation of the club, which in 2015 sued the city over an attempt to downzone the property.
“I would hope that you would be able to have cooperation,” Anderson said. “If you take it from an economic standpoint, if we are able to offer the shareholders a reasonable return on their stock, I think that would be the most amicable way of dealing with the situation. I don’t believe the Delaware way is to be antagonistic, if possible.”
With the city facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic, Anderson said council needs to explore “new and creative” ways of funding the government.
He proposed suspending all capital projects, cutting senior staff members’ pay by 10 percent and eliminating the city’s attorney and lobbyist.
He believes the city should try to recruit law students from Widener University to perform many of the functions of the city solicitor, who attends council meetings and represents the city in court. The city could also ask local attorneys to volunteer their services or ask Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings to help the city when needed, he added.
He also proposed selling naming rights for city facilities.
“Let Gore Industries take care of the Wilson Center. It’s not an unreasonable thing to ask of some of the corporations in this time of crisis,” Anderson said, referring to the community center that is currently named for local civil rights leader George Wilson.
Anderson said Newark needs to do more to recruit businesses to the city.
“Newark needs to start attracting more industry, just like the STAR Campus,” he said. “We need to work with the university to facilitate that now.”
He added that Newark should focus more on bringing in tourism by highlighting the history and “uniqueness” of the city. He called for installing locator maps on Main Street and added that he feels the welcome signs on the roads leading into town are too small.
Another easy improvement would be to add more benches downtown, he said.
“I’ve seen lots of middle-aged and older people with the young students walking up and down, and there’s no place for them to just sit down for a minute, unless you want to go into one of the restaurants,” he said. “I’m not diminishing going into the restaurants, but I’m just saying that if you’re walking around, it would be nice to have a bench to sit on. What you want to do is make this small town as attractive as possible to the maximum number of people and make it walkable.”