District 1 voters have chosen John Suchanec as their new representative on Newark City Council.
Suchanec, who previously served on council in the 1980s, defeated Christina MacMillan 378 to 210 in Tuesday’s special election to fill the seat vacated by James Horning Jr., who resigned in May.
“I am pleased and I am excited about being able to represent District 1,” a surprised Suchanec said after hearing the results Tuesday night.
He ran a bare-bones campaign compared to MacMillan, who had several volunteers and raised more than $6,000. Expecting MacMillan to win, Suchanec didn’t go to city hall to hear the results and was home cooking dinner with his wife when he learned of his victory from a Newark Post reporter.
“I’m totally surprised,” he said.
Once the shock wore off, he attributed his win to the fact that he articulated clear positions on the issues facing Newark.
“I was really upfront in terms of what I thought was important to the city and the district,” he said, adding that he told constituents the things he wants to make happen. “That was my whole message. I didn’t hide behind, ‘All we need to do is communicate, communicate, communicate.’ I said, ‘Here’s what I’m all about.’ And apparently that resonated.”
MacMillan, who helped run Horning’s campaign in 2019, had said she wasn’t going into her campaign with a detailed platform of her own but rather planned to listen to what her constituents need.
A native of Pittsburgh, Suchanec came to Newark in 1961 to attend UD. He has retired from three major companies: IBM, Hercules and most recently Bank of America, where he was a senior vice president in charge of mobile payment strategy.
The longtime resident of Tanglewood Lane in Nottingham Manor previously served on city council from 1979 to 1987.
He has also served on the boards of the Newark Housing Authority, Newark Country Club and Newark Senior Center, where as president he spearheaded the fundraising effort to build the organization’s current building in 1996.
During his campaign, Sunchanec said he believes he can bring some experience to the council, which over the last couple years has seen many of the more seasoned members retire or be defeated at the polls. Besides Mayor Jerry Clifton, the most experienced council member is in his fourth year.
“That is the number one reason why I turned to my wife and I said I think I’m going to do this one more time. I said, if they don’t have the experience, maybe they need to have some mentors on that council that actually can be the rudder,” he said. “I don’t want to do this another eight years, but I do want to go in and make sure that the ship is running in the right direction.”
Suchanec said the biggest issue facing Newark is the proliferation of development projects.
“We’ve always had a comprehensive plan, but I don’t think we’ve really done a good enough job of actually bringing that into the real world. What you’re experiencing is that you’ve got zoning that allows developers to do certain things. The question is whether those certain things that they want to build really are of benefit to the City of Newark and to the residents of Newark,” he said. “You just can’t have the university abdicate the responsibility of housing students and put that burden on the city.”
He said the city needs to examine the zoning code to make sure it’s consistent with what residents want and he also vowed not to vote for any parking waiver requests.He also called for improving the relationship between the city and UD.
“If we’ve lost that loving feeling with the university, we’ve got to get it back,” he said. “We’ve got to be working together, because there’s only so much land in Newark, and it’s got to be used properly.”Suchanec said he knows things have changed since he was a council member and said he is ready to invest the time in learning about the issues of the day.“You just don’t show up on Monday and vote on whatever comes across the table,” he said. “You’ve got to dig into this stuff. You’ve got to understand how the game is played, or how the game should be played.”
Suchanec will be sworn in July 29 and will serve out the remainder of Horning’s term, which ends in April 2023.
District 1 encompasses the western part of the city, including Nottingham Green, Nottingham Manor, Oaklands, Cherry Hill, Timber Creek, Elan of Huntington Hills, Country Hills, Valley Stream, Briarcreek, Pheasant Run, Christine Manor and surrounding areas.
Tuesday’s election drew a turnout of 18.6 percent. Of the 589 votes – one was a write-in vote – 212 were cast by absentee ballot. Following a protocol started during the pandemic, the city proactively sent absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters in the district.
The turnout was less than usual, but that was not surprising considering it was a special election held during a month when many people are on vacation and the compressed schedule meant candidates had only a month to reach out to voters.
In the 2019 District 1 election, which coincided with a mayoral race, 1,019 people voted. In 2015, the last contested District 1 race in a non-mayoral year, 853 people voted.