Two vying for mayor's seat First time since 1998 there has been a contest for mayor

By Lynn R. Parks

For the first time since 1998, when upstart Dan Short challenged incumbent Guy Longo, the city of Seaford has more than one person running for mayor. On Saturday, April 21, voters will choose between current council members William "Bill" Bennett and Pat Jones for the two-year seat.

The winner will replace current mayor Ed Butler, who is retiring after 25 years in city government.

Both candidates credit the city's management and staff for efficient operations and for planning ahead. Bennett said that, when the federal government's stimulus funds became available in March 2009, the city of Seaford was able to take advantage of them because a plan to upgrade its water system was already laid out. Similarly, he said, when low-interest money became available for projects with environmental benefits, the city was able to quickly revamp a plan for a stormwater upgrade in the east part of town to include a "green" component. "That is a direct reflection on the management and staff," Bennett said.

Both candidates also praise the city's diligence in keeping a balanced budget. "Previous councils have done a good job financially and I want to see that continue," Bennett said.

Bennett, 53, first came to the city council in 2009, when he was tagged by Butler to fill the term of Mike Vincent, who left the council to serve on the Sussex County Council. Four months later, Bennett ran unopposed to retain the seat. He serves as the city council's liaison with the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department and with the city's electrical department.

A native of Seaford, Bennett graduated from Seaford High School in 1976. He served briefly in the U.S. Marine Corps, receiving a general discharge after he developed trouble with his knee, then returned to Seaford and started working in construction. In 1987, he went to work for the city of Seaford's electrical department, first in the power plant and then on the line crew. He left the city in 1995 to work in his father's business, Harley-Davidson of Seaford, where he is vice president and chief of operations.

Bennett lives at the corner of Phillips and Locust streets with his wife, Donna. He has two children, Andrea Hudson, Lewes, and Teresa Workman, Bridgeville, and four grandchildren. Workman and one grandchild, Donnie Donovan, work at the Harley-Davidson store.

Bennett was a member of the city's planning and zoning commission from 2007 until being named to the city council. He is a 34-year member of the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department, where he went through the ranks and served a term as chief. He said that his success as chief demonstrates his ability to work with people. "Taking the ideas of other people, implementing them and making them successful is important in making anything work," he said.

Bennett feels that the greatest challenge facing the city is the need to attract more employers to the area. He believes that the city will be stronger with numerous small employers than with a couple of large employers; small businesses "can adapt better than large companies to a changing economy," he said. He also would like to see improvements in Seaford's downtown. That includes an extension of the city's riverwalk, a popular attraction but too short, he said.

And he would like to see the city promote itself more. In 2009, the city reduced impact fees in order to spur development. Information about that should be widely distributed, he said, so that "when somebody is looking for a city to locate in, they remember it and want to come here to find out more."

Bennett said that having worked for the city gives him a unique perspective on how it operates. "I know the importance of giving employees the tools that they need and of keeping employees up-to-date," he said.

There are a lot of changes in technology coming, he said, and "you have to be willing to put in the hours to keep up with what's down the road." "You've got to have the city in your heart," he added. "I grew up in Seaford and have always been active here. I care about the city and want it to do well."

Like Bennett, Jones, 44, is a native of Seaford. She graduated from Seaford High School in 1985 and entered the work force, she said. In 1996, she went to work for the Seaford Federal Credit Union, where she is currently employed as head teller. She and her husband, Gregory, were married in 1989 and have one son, Evan, who died as an infant in 2001.

Jones is serving her fourth term on the city council. She was first elected to her seat in 2002, replacing Councilman Henry Nutter, who retired. She serves as the council's liaison with the city's parks and recreation department.

Jones said that she enjoys serving on the council. "I take pride in impacting the lives of my constituents with their growing concerns," she said. That is especially true with the people who live in east Seaford, "the community where I was born and raised," she added.

Jones is a member of the Delaware Commission for Women. She is a Girl Scout leader and is organizer of the Eastern Short AFRAM Festival as well as the MLK Day of Celebration.

Founder of Heaven Bound Ministries, she serves on the board of directors of the Seaford Mission. She is a member of the Delaware Black Caucus, a non-partisan public policy, research and educational organization, and is active in 39th district Democratic Party politics.

Like Bennett, Jones is concerned about economic development and job creation in the city. She would like to see more affordable housing in the city, wants the city to keep electricity rates low as low as it can and wants to work to reduce crime and drug use. She is active in her community's neighborhood watch program.

"I was inspired to make a difference in my community by longtime Councilman Henry Nutter," she said. "I never considered myself a politician. However, I always found myself making a difference. As the city's mayor, I hope to increase my knowledge in this leadership role in preparation for the county, state and eventually national level."

Jones said that as mayor, she would show "extraordinary leadership" and would "continue to serve my constituents as diligently as I have the last 10 years." She said that she would be open to new ideas.

"I will urge my constituents not to complain about a problem if you're not willing to be a part of the solution," she said. "A successful city depends on all of us working collectively, not just one person."

Jones added that she would love to be the city's first African-American mayor as well as its first woman mayor. "It took the entire village to help me develop into the strong, proud woman that I have become," she said. "For that, I am forever grateful and would love to continue to serve my city as the visionary and their voice."

For your information The city of Seaford will hold an election Saturday, April 21. Voting will take place from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. in Seaford City Hall. The deadline to register as a candidate in the election as well as to vote is Friday, March 23. At stake in the election are the mayor's seat and two council seats, currently held by Bill Bennett and Grace Peterson. Peterson has filed as a council candidate, as has newcomer David Genshaw. Bennett, who is running for mayor against Councilwoman Pat Jones, cannot also run for his council seat. For further information, call city hall, 629-1973.

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