With no opponent in the April election, former councilman Stu Markham will become Newark’s next mayor.
The filing deadline for the election was Monday night, and all four races on the ballot are uncontested. Per city code, the election will be canceled, and the sole candidate in each race will be declared the winner.
Markham, who served on city council from 2006 to 2020, will be sworn in as mayor on April 21. He will succeed Jerry Clifton, who chose not to seek a second term.
Incumbent council members Jay Bancroft, Jason Lawhorn and Travis McDermott will all be sworn in for another term the same evening.
Markham said Tuesday that he was humbled by the messages of support he received from neighbors and constituents once it became clear that he was the mayor-elect. However, he said the news hasn't quite sunk in yet for him.
"It was never my goal. City council was to serve my neighbors and do the best job I could. I never thought about mayor. I rented the chair when Jerry or Polly [were absent] or even back in Vance's day, but it was never mine to take responsibility for completely," he said, referring to times that, as deputy mayor, he filled in for previous mayors Clifton, Sierer and Funk.
Markham said he is now pivoting from planning a campaign to beginning the transition period. He plans to meet with Clifton to learn more about ongoing initiatives and sit down with council members to discuss their priorities.
"I also want to try to get out and meet more people to find out what their thoughts are," he said. "The campaign is usually where you find that out."
A native of Towson, Md., Markham first came to Newark to attend the University of Delaware, where he majored in political science. He met his wife, Kathy, here and after living in Maryland for a few years, they returned to Newark in 1990 to be closer to her family.
They have lived in the Hunt at Louviers ever since. Markham, who has a master’s degree in computer science, most recently worked as a vice president for JPMorgan Chase, running project management for a team of developers. Prior to that he worked as a technologist for the Delaware Department of Education.
Markham’s first foray into local politics came in 2006, when he won a three-way race for the District 6 council seat, replacing the departing Kevin Vonck. He went on to be re-elected six times, facing a challenger only once.
During his time on council, Markham was instrumental in establishing Curtis Mill Park on the site of the old Curtis Paper Mill and was a strong proponent of renewable energy. He spearheaded the creation of the McKees Solar Park and had long advocated installing solar panels atop buildings in the city, an idea that has since been approved and will be completed later this year
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.
He announced his retirement from council in 2020, explaining that he needed to “recharge” before embarking on any new challenges.
He has since retired from his day job and said serving as chairman of Newark’s reapportionment committee last fall “re-whet my appetite” for government service.
At this stage of his life, running for mayor made sense, he said.
“I really felt like when I was on council that between my regular job and my family and other interests, I was more than busy enough, so it never really made sense to me,” he said. “This time, it just seems like all the pieces kind of fit together.”
He said that one of his priorities as mayor will be taking a close look at the city’s finances.
“I think it's important for everybody to feel like they've got value for their money,” he said.
He said he is concerned about the businesses struggling due to the pandemic and would like to find ways the city can help them, possibly using some of the American Rescue Plan Act money.
“Having lots of businesses empty on Main Street, or anywhere in the city, is not good,” he said.
Another focus will be on the upcoming zoning review for the downtown district. In response to concerns about development, the city will hold public workshops in the coming months to solicit feedback on what changes residents would like to see.
“We’ve got to talk about where do we want the city to go in the future, but I think we also have to realize we're not going to be here the whole time. So what do we want to leave to the next generation and what works for the city?” Markham said.
One major point of discussion will be the height of buildings on Main Street. Markham said a limit of five stories would be reasonable, though he added there are other factors to consider as well.
“It's all going to be a balance, because the city staff will tell you that it's cheaper to deliver utilities to a more dense building,” he said. “We should look at, are there places where we would rather have the higher buildings and draw students and other people to those locations?”
In District 3, Jay Bancroft will be sworn in for his second term.
A native of Wilmington, Bancroft earned a degree in computer engineering from the University of Colorado and worked at the Naval Research Lab modeling war games. He later discovered a love for entomology and went back to school, earning a doctorate at the University of Connecticut.
He worked for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and later at a lab in California, before moving to Newark a decade ago to work for the United States Department of Agriculture, which has a lab at the University of Delaware’s farm.
He’s now semi-retired and lives in the Spring Hill neighborhood.
Bancroft was elected in the pandemic-delayed July 2020 election, defeating Anthony Sinibaldi for the seat vacated by Jen Wallace, who didn’t seek re-election.
In a phone interview last week, Bancroft said he wasn’t prepared to reflect on his past term or talk about his goals for the next one. He later emailed a prepared statement saying that the council was able to accomplish many small tasks to improve the city’s efficiency.
“I point out environmental actions like incentives and rules for developer environmental stewardship, single-use plastic reductions, light pollution reduction, Christina stream redesignation, and most importantly, the renewable energy program for Newark electric customers,” he wrote.
Looking forward, he wrote, “my plans are to continue to be disciplined in reviewing agenda and coming to council well-prepared.”
Bancroft added that he wants to push harder to get council to consider the environmental effects of its actions.
“There is little sustainability designed into our system, which is geared toward increased development, economic activity, and tax revenue,” he wrote. “I'll push for a better balance in the many places within city government where quality of life is at issue but is not appreciated as much as it should. My district has many modest residents and students, and I plan to look out for ways to make their taxes an even better value.”
District 3 covers the southwest part of Newark and includes Devon, Binns, a portion of Old Newark, Arbour Park, Barksdale Estates, Newark Preserve, Twin Lakes, Silverbrook, Spring Hill, Villa Belmont, Cobblefield, Southridge, Rockwood Court and surrounding neighborhoods.
In District 5, Jason Lawhorn will be sworn in for his third term.
Lawhorn grew up outside Wilmington and graduated from Delcastle High School before enlisting in the United States Navy. He served four years as an engineer aboard the destroyer U.S.S. John Hancock.
He moved to the Newark area two decades ago, first living in Scottfield and then moving to Fairfield. He attended UD and started his career at Rodel. He now works as senior research scientist for Advanced Materials Technologies in Wilmington.
He was first elected in 2018, beating two other candidates for the open seat. He won a second term in 2020.
Lawhorn said his most important achievement in his last term was helping start the process of reviewing the zoning code for the downtown district.
“I'm proud that I brought that forward, because there was a lot of talk about it, but nobody ever proposed that it's time to do something about it,” he said. “It took longer than I wanted it to, but the wheels are turning now to have a process to engage with residents.”
He said it’s important that the city finally implement the recommendations of the parking subcommittee and also establish clear guidelines for what residents want to see downtown, from the height of buildings to how buildings are designed.
In his next term, he hopes to help the city create a strategic plan, something he has long advocated for.
“For the city to operate efficiently, that means we need to identify the most important things, focus on them and get them done and recognize that there are some things that we would like to do, but we're just not going to get to them this year,” he said.
District 5 is located in the northwest part of the city and includes Christianstead, West Branch, Fairfield, Fairfield Crest, Terry Manor, New London Road and surrounding areas.
In District 6, Travis McDermott will be sworn in for his second term.
McDermott is a 21-year veteran of the New Castle County Police Department, where he serves as a senior lieutenant overseeing the special operations team.
A Delaware native, he grew up in Hockessin and attended McKean High School and the University of Delaware. The single dad of two moved to the Hunt at Louviers six years ago.
In 2020, he ran unopposed for the seat vacated by Markham.
McDermott said that he is most proud of working with the city staff to begin crafting a law to crack down on nuisance properties. The law, which will be voted on later this year, would establish a point system for offenses, and landlords that accumulate a certain number of points would have to either evict their problem tenant or lose their rental permit.
“The amount of communications that I get from neighbors in reference to nuisance properties was astounding,” he said. “I found that there really wasn't a mechanism to stop some of the egregious, 1 to 2 percent of the properties that repeatedly offend our code.”
Common complaints are abandoned vehicles parked on properties, grass not being cut and fences falling down.
“Just those things that add to the blight of our communities,” he said. “On the surface, they seem trivial, but if you live next to one of these properties, and you have to deal with it on a routine basis, it really becomes a quality-of-life issue.”
In his next term, McDermott is looking forward to the downtown zoning review and also wants to work with state legislators to pressure the University of Delaware to do more to house its students rather than pushing that burden onto the city and private developers.
“City council, from what I've learned, is limited in its ability to really influence or direct the university and their management philosophy and their direction. But I believe that our state senators and our state representatives do have the ability to influence that,” he said. “I really think council and the city need to work with those elected officials that represent the residents of the City of Newark to make the university realize that they have an obligation to house some of their students.”
McDermott also wants the city to consider alternative revenue sources, such as raising parking fines, to offset the need for future tax increases.
District 6 encompasses the northern part of Newark, including neighborhoods off Cleveland Avenue, Paper Mill Road, Possum Park Road and Old Paper Mill Road, as well as much of Main Street.