Newark Councilwoman Sharon Hughes died unexpectedly early Saturday at Christiana Hospital, city officials confirmed. She was 68.
“All of us in Newark, our hearts are really heavy,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said. “It’s a huge gap we have to fill. I know her legacy will live on.”
A longtime resident of Stafford, Hughes was in her third year representing District 2. She was first elected in 2019 to replace then-councilman Clifton when he became mayor, and she was re-elected without opposition in April.
“She was a tireless warrior for District 2. She loved Newark,” Clifton said. “She had opportunities to move out of the city, and she never wanted to move out because she loved the city so much and she really cared about people. Sharon was in public office to truly be a public servant.”
As a councilwoman, Hughes was an advocate for seniors, supported strengthening the police department and often argued for reigning in development.
In January, she said that during her first term, she was most proud of helping people who were homeless or struggling due to the pandemic, including by volunteering at mobile food pantries in the city. She also worked to get police to crack down on illegal street racing along Capitol Trail.
“I don’t shy away from big problems,” she said in 2019. “I jump in, I roll up my sleeves, I help them.”
Even before being elected, Hughes was a regular in Newark politics. Her first run for council came in 2005, when Clifton initially decided not to seek re-election but then won in a historic write-in vote. She fell short again in 2014 and three years later, she filed to run against Clifton but withdrew from the race before the election.
“Sometimes you have to run a few times before they’re ready for you,” she said during her 2019 campaign. “I never lost my enthusiasm. I truly believe [voters] were just saying, ‘Not yet.’”
Clifton noted that while the two started as political rivals, he and his wife, Linda, became close friends with Hughes over the years.
After Clifton won in 2005, Hughes brought him a teddy bear dressed in Army fatigues as a goodwill gesture, he said. During his time on council, he often met with Hughes to discuss issues and ultimately endorsed her to replace him when he ran for mayor.
“She was a true class act and she didn’t like to close any doors,” Clifton said. “Linda and I are just so grateful that she had a chance to realize her one life’s dream of serving the public in this manner. We had our moments of disagreement, but we certainly got past that and I’ll be eternally grateful that we did get past that and she served the people of Newark.”
Hughes was retired from a career in the mortgage industry. She had previously worked as a legal aide, a real estate agent and an aide to a county councilman.
A Delaware native, she moved to Bucks County, Pa., to attend high school and studied business at Bucks County Community College before moving back to Delaware. She lived in Newark since 2003.
Under city code, a special election will be held within 30 to 60 days, and the winner will fill the remainder of Hughes’ term, which expires in April 2023.
It will be the second special election this year. The first was in July when John Suchanec was elected to replace James Horning, who resigned his District 1 council seat.
Monday’s city council meeting was been cancelled due to a lack of quorum, a result of Hughes’ death and previously scheduled vacations of several council members.
Hughes will be laid to rest Friday, Oct. 1.
Visitation will be at First Presbyterian Church of Newark, 292 W. Main St., from 10 a.m. to noon. The funeral service will follow at noon. Interment will be held privately at Head of Christiana Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to the Newark Senior Center or the Food Bank of Delaware.
Hughes is survived by her daughter, Jennifer L. Tetlow and Tetlow’s husband Raymond of Kennett Square, Pa.; her son, John Hughes of New Hope, Pa.; one sister, Judith of Newark; one brother, James of Yardley, Pa., and five grandchildren: Pierce, Rhianna, Tanner, Gavin and Grayson. She was predeceased by five brothers and sisters, Kenneth, Darlene, Eric, Gary, and Debra.