Stu Markham, Newark’s longest continuously serving council member, will not seek an eighth term.
“It’s time to move on,” Markham said, choking back tears as he made the announcement at the beginning of Monday night’s council meeting. “It’s kind of odd. I can’t come up with the words.”
Markham noted that the city is in a good place, with no financial crises, no major legal battles and no leadership challenges. In other words, he said, it’s an ideal time for a new councilperson to get his or her feet wet.
“This is a situation where if I were a new councilperson, I would want to come in,” he said. “It's nice and calm and quiet. Having your feet to the fire when you first start is not a lot of fun."
Markham knows that first-hand, after having been thrust into the midst of the costly lawsuit over the Newark Reservoir just a few months after winning his first term.
“I had no time to adjust,” he recalled in an interview Monday night.
A resident of The Hunt at Louviers, Markham was first elected in 2006, winning a three-way race for the District 6 seat. He went on to be re-elected six times, facing a challenger only once.
The first councilman to live north of White Clay Creek, he ran with the goal of giving a voice to residents of northern Newark, who are further away from the core of the city and often feel forgotten, he said.
"The idea was to have them more involved in the city. and I think they are,” he said. “I think there's more involvement and I think there's more attention to what's going on.”
During his time on council, Markham was instrumental in establishing Curtis Mill Park on the site of the old Curtis Paper Mill and has been a strong proponent of renewable energy. He spearheaded the creation of the McKees Solar Park and has long advocated installing solar panels atop buildings in the city, an idea that is in the early stages and could be voted on this summer.
"I always try to find more than one problem to solve with a single project,” noting that the solar helps the environment while also saving the city money on electricity costs.
Markham used his background in information technology to help modernize the city’s IT department, and he developed a reputation for scrutinizing the city’s monthly financial reports, frequently peppering the finance director with questions.
As the council member with the most seniority, he also serves as deputy mayor.
Markham said he has considered retiring from council in previous years, but didn’t feel comfortable leaving the city during difficult times. With things relatively calm, it’s a good time to step away, he said.
"I've thought about it for a few years,” he said in an interview. “I care about the city. I care that the work is being done and we're making progress. It's a hard decision. You could tell I got a little emotional."
Mayor Jerry Clifton thanked Markham for his 14 years of service.
“It’s been an honor for me to serve with you,” Clifton said. “You were the steady hand.”
Markham said he plans to take some time to “recharge” before embarking on any new challenges.
Clifton told him he will always be welcome at city hall after his term ends in April.
“If Kathy throws you out of the house, you can come here every Monday night,” Clifton quipped, referring to Markham’s wife.
Markham said he has talked to a few people considering running for the District 6 seat but hasn’t decided if he will endorse a candidate.
"Let me see how the field ends up,” he said. “I've talked to several reasonable people, and that's the important thing. My district is fairly fiscally conservative, but they also want to see rational decisions made."
Candidates have until Feb. 10 to file to run in the April 14 municipal election. In order to be eligible to run, a potential candidate must be a registered voter, reside in the district he or she is seeking to represent, have lived in the city for at least one year and submit a nominating petition signed by 10 qualified voters in the district.
District 6 encompasses the northern part of Newark, including neighborhoods off Cleveland Avenue, Paper Mill Road and Old Paper Mill Road.
The district 3 and district 5 seats are also up for election in April. The incumbents, Jen Wallace and Jason Lawhorn, have not yet indicated whether they plan to seek re-election.
As of Monday evening, no one has filed to run.