Two candidates are vying to represent District 1 in the July 20 special election to replace Councilman James Horning Jr., who resigned last month.
In the race are Christina MacMillan, a construction executive who helped run Horning’s campaign two years ago, and John Suchanec, a retired Bank of America executive who served as a city councilman in the 1980s.
MacMillan said her priority as a councilwoman would be to maintain communication between the city and the residents.
“Basically, I just want to make sure there’s communication maintained with my neighbors,” she said. “I think I could bring some connection between what’s going on with council, listening to my neighbors what they want.”
MacMillan grew up in Elkton, Md., and moved here to attend the University of Delaware. After living outside of the city for a while, she moved to Amherst Drive in Nottingham Green 10 years ago.
“Probably in the past seven or so years, I’ve been paying more attention to what’s been going on, especially locally, and just trying to figure out how I could be more involved and influence what’s going on in our area to make sure it’s the direction I think it should be going in,” MacMillan said.
She got her first taste of city politics in 2018 when she served as treasurer of Councilman Jason Lawhorn’s campaign. A year later, she served in the same role for Horning.
“That definitely gave me some insight into the process and insight into some discussions of what you need to think about and who are the people to ask and reach out to about things,” she said.
Much like Horning when he ran for office in 2019, MacMillan said she’s not going into the campaign with a detailed platform of her own but rather plans to listen to what her constituents need.
“I want to get out and talk to my neighbors and understand their concerns before giving full opinions on some of the issues that are out there right now,” she said.
She noted that she’s already heard concerns about development.
“I just want to make sure that communication is open as to why decisions were being made,” she said. “There are laws in place and certain things that happen that make it harder for them to say no to those projects, so I just want to make sure there’s clear communication on why certain decisions are being made.”
MacMillan has worked for the Wilmington-based construction firm M. Davis & Sons for 23 years, recently being promoted to vice president of strategic development. She believes the skills she has honed in the business world will translate well into a role on council.
“I have a good track record of listening and being decisive but also being patient and caring,” she said. “I think that’s something I could bring to the community as well.”
Meanwhile, Suchanec is seeking to return to the council seat he held from 1979 to 1987.
The longtime resident of Tanglewood Lane in Nottingham Manor 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.”
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.
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 campaign to build the organization’s current building in 1996.
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.”
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.
While in-person voting will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 20 at Newark Wesleyan Church, 708 W. Church Road, residents are encouraged to vote by absentee ballot. The city will send an absentee ballot request form to every registered voter in the district.
The voter registration deadline is June 28. The city uses the same voter database as the state, so any District 1 resident who is registered to vote in November state and federal elections is also registered to vote in Newark elections.