In-person meeting

A Newark City Council meeting is seen in this August 2021 file photo.

City council on Monday rejected a proposal to raise the minimum age for serving in Newark government.

The measure failed in a 3-4 vote. Because it would have required a change to the city’s charter, it needed the support of a super majority – six of seven council members – before moving on to the state legislature for final approval.

The idea was proposed by Councilwoman Corinth Ford, who was elected in November after defeating a University of Delaware undergraduate in the District 2 special election.

“We don’t let people drink alcohol until they are 21. If they can’t handle alcohol, how can they possibly make decisions that impact the lives of residents in this community?” Ford, 69, said Monday night.

Current Newark law doesn’t specifically list a minimum age to hold elected office but requires candidates to be a qualified voter, essentially making the minimum age 18.

In other levels of government, higher minimum ages are common.

The U.S. Constitution stipulates that a representative in congress must be at least 25, a senator must be at least 30 and the president must be at least 35. In Delaware, a governor must be at least 30, and the minimum age for the state house and state senate is 24 and 27, respectively. New Castle County has a minimum age of 24 to serve on county council and 27 to serve as county executive.

Approximately half the towns in Delaware set the minimum age for elected officials at 18 and the other half at 21. There are two outliers: Elsmere, which requires its mayor to be at least 30, and Wilmington, which requires its mayor to be at least 25.

Ford proposed setting Newark’s minimum age for mayor at 24 and council at 21.

“This is a matter of common sense, and frankly, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been raised before this,” she said.

The idea won the support of Mayor Jerry Clifton and Councilwoman Dwendolyn Creecy.

Clifton said elected officials need life experience to be able to handle the affairs of the city.

“Yes, there are exceptional people out there, but you’re talking about a budget that’s a $100 million budget, and you’re talking about being one of seven people who are going to be directing the lives of 250 employees,” Clifton said.

However, other council members said the issue is best left up to the voters.

“The voters in the community are wise enough to know who would be a good representative and who would not and who is qualified and who is not,” Councilman John Suchanec said.

Councilman Jason Lawhorn said his constituents still talk fondly of Ezra Temko, the 22-year-old UD graduate student who served his district from 2008 to 2012.

“I think it demonstrates that he was exceptional as a council person at a very young age, and I don’t think it would be a far reach to think that someone of his ilk could have done it a few years earlier,” Lawhorn said.

“In a smaller town like ours, I think it’s intimate enough that we should have plenty of access to the candidate’s capabilities and qualifications,” he added. “While it may be rare and unlikely, it’s possible that a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old could meet those needs and could be a better candidate than a 30-year-old or 40-year-old or 50-year-old.”

Lawhorn said that even if a younger candidate doesn’t win, he or she could still bring a fresh perspective to the race and raise issues not normally talked about.

Resident John Morgan suggested council consider increasing the residency requirement from one year to two or three, arguing that experience living in Newark is more important than age. He also suggested that in uncontested elections, voters should be able to cast a yes-or-no vote on the sole candidate.

City Solicitor Paul Bilodeau said he will research the feasibility of those ideas but noted that finding a legal way to do a yes-or-no vote would be difficult.

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