100 Reasons to be a Happy Camper

Things to be optimistic about

It’s February. The trees are bare, the temperatures hover near freezing, it’s dark by six in the evening, football season is over, and baseball is two months away. What’s more, we are coming off a year that was disquieting, to say the least. It was fraught with social and political upheaval, the passing of an extraordinary number of beloved celebrities, many at a relatively young age, continued violent crime in our city and our nation, along with unrest, war and terrorism throughout the world.

Yet there is always reason—make that reasons—for hope. In fact, when the staff of Out & About began putting together our list of things to be optimistic about, we found it relatively easy to come up with 100. And while 100 is a nice, round number, these are by no means the only reasons to be optimistic about 2017. Feel free to send us your list.

1 In 2015, approximately 700,000 volunteer hours were documented by Delaware’s Office of Volunteerism. The value of this continuing service is estimated at more than $15 million.

2 Through Meals On Wheels Delaware last year, 738,807 meals were delivered to approximately 4,000 seniors by more than 1,000 volunteers. That’s an 11 percent increase from 2015.

3 In 2016, 420 volunteers contributed 3,685 hours at The Delaware Center for Horticulture, helping the nonprofit continue its statewide mission of cultivating greener communities.

4 After years of fundraising, the folks behind Preston’s Playground are getting closer to achieving their goal of $500,000. The 8,400-square-foot space at the base of the Newark Reservoir will be outfitted with a rubberized base and handicap-accessible entrances and exits for kids of all abilities and disabilities. You can help them get there by donating at prestonsplayground.com.

5 The Delaware River is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi, and it’s not just an important habitat for wildlife—it’s a major economic engine for our region, too. A recent study shows that the basin contributes $25 billion annually in economic activity and supports 600,000 jobs in our region.Brown cardboard moving box on white with a fragile sticker

6 Amazon announced last month that it will hire 100,000 new employees over the course of the next year and a half. That’s a 56 percent increase in its U.S. workforce (180,000 at the end of 2016). The New York Times reported that “Amazon fulfillment centers across the country stand to be among the biggest beneficiaries.”

7 Trying to stem high turnover in store jobs, nonprofit groups and chains such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and the Home Shopping Network are launching a program to help people develop the skills to land entry-level jobs and advance in a retail career. More than 20 major retailers, including Neiman Marcus and Ashley Stewart, have pledged general support for the Rise Up program that was launched Jan. 15.

8 After looking at options in neighboring states, Chemours—the DuPont Co. chemical spin-off—announced it would remain in Delaware. Not only does this keep the long-standing DuPont family name in business in the First State, it also saves the jobs of some 1,000 workers who may have been otherwise laid off or forced to relocate.

9 About a year after DuPont laid off 200 Experimental Station employees (that’s the bad news), it announced last month that it would be investing $200 million into the facility (that’s the good news). Enhancements in the lab space won’t just benefit DuPont and Dow, which are merging to create three new companies, two of which will be based in Delaware. It also will be a boon for third-party science companies looking for business incubation space.

10 The Delaware Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program continues to teach life skills and create career opportunities for Delaware’s youth. It is currently in 18 high schools, reaches more than 3,000 students, and offers more than $100,000 in scholarship money.

11 There are upwards of 1,000 co-working spaces in the United States—and at least four in Wilmington: The Mill, coIN Loft, 1313 Innovation and Artist Ave. Station—fostering creative collaborations and community.

12 At the University of Delaware, the last three years have seen the most diverse entering undergraduate class in the institution’s history, with more than 25 percent coming from historically underrepresented and underserved communities.

13 Vice President Joe Biden returns home to Delaware for some well-deserved R&R. But he won’t be sitting still long. He plans to collaborate with the University of Delaware on economic and domestic policy, an effort that hopefully will spell great things ahead for both the country and the First State.

14 Delaware’s graduation rate is rising, according to the U.S. Department of Education. During the 2014-2015 schoolyear, the upward trend in Delaware graduation success (85 percent) mirrored the recently-released graduation data from the Department that showed the nation hitting a record high (83 percent) for high school graduation. The rise has been steady since 2010.

15 Community gardens are becoming more prominent. The Delaware Center for Horticulture currently supports approximately 20 throughout New Castle County.

16 Delaware is reducing food waste. Last year, Food Bank of Delaware redirected more than 2 million pounds of food destined for landfills to the tables of those in need. It expects to exceed that total in 2017.

17 Last year, the Food Bank of Delaware received almost 9 million pounds of donated food.

18 Local farmers’ markets have surpassed $3 million in sales annually over the past couple of years and area family farmers are finding new markets by selling to local supermarkets, who recognize their value.

19 Every Delaware public school district buys directly from local farmers.

20 On Jan. 13, Panera Bread announced that it had removed artificial ingredients from its food menu and Panera at Home products in the United States. The company has said that by year end it would remove artificial flavors and colors, preservatives and sweeteners from the food served at its 2,000 restaurants.

21 You might recycle, drive an environmentally-friendly car—good. Next step? Composting for your garden. The state offers workshops, classes and demonstrations on composting throughout the year.

22 Delaware now diverts nearly 43 percent of recyclables from landfills to recycling operations. That’s nearly 8 billion pounds of trash.

23 Delaware’s municipal solid waste recycling rate has been steadily improving for the past decade. The rate is currently 42.6 percent, up from 23.2 percent in 2006. The state goal is 60 percent by 2020.

24 The U.S. Department of Energy has tapped the University of Delaware to be a key player in the new Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute led by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). RAPID’s role will be to develop breakthrough technologies and processes to boost energy productivity and efficiency and decrease environmental impacts, especially related to chemical manufacturing.

25 The United States continues to lead the world in number of patents filed, with 109,353 in the first half of 2016. It isn’t even close. Second-place Japan had 24,200. Proof that America has a lot of people with a lot of ideas.

26 More hybrid and electric vehicles are on the road. It seems the auto manufacturers are finally getting the hint that consumers not only want to save on gasoline, but also want to save the planet. Hybrids aren’t going anywhere and now it seems EVs (Electric Vehicles) are here to stay. There are now more than 20 plug-in models offered from more than a dozen brands.

27 The Chevy Bolt has been named top car in North America, an important milestone for a car General Motors hopes will finally get Americans hooked on electric vehicles. The honor was announced Jan. 9 in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show.

28 The first self-sufficient boat powered only by emission-free energy will start a six-year trip around the world in the spring. Energy Observer, a former multi-hull race boat converted into a green vessel equipped with solar panels, wind turbines and a hydrogen fuel cell system, will be powered by wind, the sun, and self-generated hydrogen. The boat, which is currently in a shipyard in Saint-Malo (western France), will set sail from the Brittany port.

29 Wind and solar are crushing fossil fuels. Clean energy investment now outpaces gas and coal 2 to 1. As renewable energy is becoming ever cheaper to produce, installations are booming. Recent trends show that wealthier countries are slowly phasing out coal out entirely.

30 In 2015, REI—outdoor outfitters Recreational Equipment Inc.—gave more than 72 percent of its profit to community projects (and generous employee bonuses). This generosity has a direct, positive impact on Delaware parks (see story, pg. 21).

31 While 2016’s stats aren’t released yet, DNREC’s Division of Parks & Recreation saw a 19 percent jump in camping throughout state parks between 2014 and 2015. Keep getting outdoors!

32 Families have only so many options at the beach when the weather turns bad: the outlets, the movies, and that’s pretty much it. But now there is Lefty’s Alley & Eats in Lewes, which opened in January. The joint offers bowling, laser tag, and an arcade, as well as a 110-seat restaurant and bar.

33 Beach-goers will now have a new, large concert venue come this summer, thanks to Highway One (Rusty Rudder, Bottle & Cork) opening a 4,000-capacity, amphitheater-style venue at Hudson Fields in Milton. The first concert— country music band Old Dominion—is set to christen the place on June 1.

34 Suicide Sunday, the Running of the Bull, an Orange (or Grapefruit) Crush, Kristen and the Noise; these terms are synon
ymous with summers in Dewey, and all dwell under the same roof. Yes, The Starboard Opening Weekend begins March 16, coinciding with the first day of spring (March 20).

35 Anyone can hit the outlets year-round, but getting a good deal in town can be a little harder to find. Your best bet for beach discounts is to hit the annual sidewalk sales in Rehoboth. There are two dates this year: the spring event the weekend of May 19-20 and the fall event from Oct. 6-8.

36 Firefly, perhaps the best Delaware music event ever, returns to The Woodlands in Dover June 15-18. Regardless of age, you owe yourself the experience.

37 The Wilmington Grand Prix has been named to USA Cycling’s national calendar for the 10th straight year and will bring an international cycling field to Downtown Wilmington May 19-20. The event has generated more than $3 million in economic impact since 2012.

38 Each year, the St. Anthony’s Italian Festival celebrates the culture of a particular region of the home country, and in 2017, Sicily is the focus. That means lots of dishes with eggplant and sardines, pignolata and almond cookies, and plenty of refreshing ice granita.

39 After hitting the $1 million mark in tickets sales last season for the first time in its 38-year history, Delaware Theatre Company continues to build its regional reputation by presenting two new plays in 2017 that will then move on to New York City: White Guy on the Bus and Hetty Feather.

40 Who says we don’t like opera? In 2016, 20,184 people attended a performance by OperaDelaware, the state’s only professional opera company and the 11th oldest opera company in the nation.

41 The Light Up The Queen Foundation continues its fundraising ways with its sixth anniversary show on March 4, this one titled Shine A Light on ‘77. Some of the best local musicians will gather at World Cafe Live to pay tribute to the year 1977, which saw the likes of Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder topping the charts.

42 Wilmington’s arthouse cinema destination Theatre N reopened last fall under new leadership with fresh momentum. You go, local arts scene!

43 On the heels of setting the record for total number of Emmy awards (38, besting Frasier by one), Game of Thrones returns to HBO this summer. Date to be announced.

44 Netflix’s instant cult classic that premiered last August, Stranger Things, is returning for season two to drag us all—happily—back to the Upside Down.

45 Veep, nominated once again for Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy, returns in the spring. All hail Julia Louis-Dreyfus!

46 Aubrey Plaza, Delaware’s favorite funny girl, gets a shot at starring in Marvel Comics’ Legion this spring on FX. Plaza plays “Lenny,” the chatty, psychiatric ward counterpart to David Haller (Dan Stevens), whose schizophrenic nature forces him to question whether he’s human, mutant, or both.

47 Ladybug, Wilmington’s own little version of Lilith Fair, will be rocking Lower Market Street (LOMA) once again this summer. The female-driven music festival takes place July 20-21, and offers advantages over Firefly Music Festival: it’s a heck of a lot closer and a heck of a lot cheaper—in fact, it’s free!

48 It’s quite a scheduling accomplishment for The Grand Opera House as it brings one of the world’s greatest humorists, Dave Sedaris, back to Wilmington almost every year. Do yourself a favor and read one of Sedaris’ many best-selling books, then go see him on April 12.

49 Fueled by laugh-out-loud skits, a talented and diverse cast and a powerhouse line-up of hosts and guests, Saturday Night Live is enjoying a resurgence. Its 42nd season kicked off with its best premiere ratings in eight years.

50 The Trump administration will provide endless fodder for late night talk shows and especially Saturday Night Live, where Alec Baldwin will be assured of continued employment.

51 Trump will inspire progressives to be vigilant and vocal in opposition to attempts to roll back gains related to the environment, women’s health, marriage equality, religious liberty, civil rights, etc.

52 Per No. 51, there was the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington.

53 Donald Trump’s strategy of publicly shaming corporations for exporting jobs may prove effective in job creation and bringing U.S. companies back to America.

54 Facebook has taken steps to address its role in spreading fake news, such as enlisting the help of third-party fact-checkers, according to Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg. The social network was widely criticized for allowing false stories to circulate in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election.

55 Contrary to newsroom sensationalism, violent crime in the U.S. continues to decline and has been on a steady downward trend since 1991.

56 The employment report showed solid gains in December despite the narrowing supply of unemployed workers in the labor market.

57 Democrat Mike Purzycki won the election for Mayor of Wilmington in November, and already citizens of “A Place to be Somebody” are excited for their future. Purzycki chose a solid transition team, which included Out & About’s own Jerry duPhily as Cultural Affairs chair. Purzycki’s website (mikeformayor2016.com) includes an “ideas” button for citizens to submit suggestions on how to improve the city.

58 It takes a village. Two newly-elected leaders, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, have promised an unprecedented spirit of cooperation in addressing the county’s major challenges.

59 Dr. LaVerne Harmon will become the first black female college president in Delaware history when she assumes the reins at Wilmington University after Dr. Jack Varsalona retires on June 30.

60 From July 2015 to July 2016, Delawareans checked out more than 360,000 STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) books. That’s a lot of educational material being read—and shows that libraries are still relevant and thriving.

61 Some recent studies have shown that being optimistic can decrease your risk of heart attacks and strokes and increase longevity.

62 After decades of increasing, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off and the rise in obesity among adults is beginning to slow, according to the Center for Disease Control. Obesity remains one of the biggest threats to the health of our children and our country, putting millions of Americans at increased risk for a range of chronic diseases and contributing to more than $147 billion dollars in preventable healthcare spending. At least its progress.

63 Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or one of every five deaths. But according to the CDC, smoking has declined from nearly 21 of every 100 adults (20.9 percent) in 2005 to about 15 of every 100 adults (15.1 percent) in 2015.

64 According to a recently published article in the journal Pediatrics, the use of physical discipline is decreasing and enthusiasm for alternative forms of discipline is increasing among mothers of all socioeconomic backgrounds. (Delaware is good at being first: In 2012, we became the first state to pass a law that effectively outlawed the corporal discipline of children by their parents.)

65 Drug advances to look for in 2017 include: a vaccine for HIV beginning Phase II trials, the use of the dissociative anesthetic ketamine to target treatment-resistant depression, new drugs and therapies based on the microbiome and even a new female libido booster that’s up for approval.

66 Expect further improvements in robotic surgery. In addition to the currently available da Vinci Surgical System, look for competition from the new surgical robot system developed by the partnership of Google and Johnson & Johnson. These systems will allow for minimally invasive surgeries on the most delicate elements of human anatomy.

67 In 2016, according to the journal Science, the discovery of gravitational waves launched a new branch of science. Think black holes, dark matter, seeing further back in time…some pretty intense stuff.

68 Space exploration is back in vogue. Last March, Commander Scott Kelly completed his one-year mission in space, providing tons of data on what it’s like to live in the weightless environment. NASA’s Juno satellite arrived at Jupiter in July and continues to provide the most precise data that the agency has ever collected on the giant planet. And in August, an international team of astronomers confirmed the discovery of another Earth-like planet in a habitable zone four light years away from us.

69 Twenty percent of all international tourists—that’s 200 million people—are millennials, according to a United Nations study, and that’s now the fastest-growing age segment in terms of the money spent on travel. What does this translate to? Increased open-mindedness, understanding of different cultures, and new perspectives for the world’s future leaders.

70 People are interested in visiting us. More than a half-million people visited VisitWilmingtonDe.com, the official tourism website for New Castle County, in 2016.

71 Be sure to thank your visiting in-laws. Thanks to tourism, each Delaware household will pay approximately $1,360 less in taxes this year.

72 For the first time in years, Wilmington will see at least four major ground-up new construction sites in Downtown and Riverfront Wilmington.

73 While it’s still years away from breaking ground, a direct rail line from Wilmington to the Philadelphia Airport has inched closer to approval. Federal officials gave their stamp of approval on a proposal for upgrades to the Northeast Corridor, but it would need financial backing from state or local government. Fingers crossed, commuters.

74 The Brandywine YMCA is scheduled to start a 16,000-square-foot expansion this spring. It will include adding adaptive fitness equipment for patrons with limited mobility and renovated preschool classrooms.

75 In 2017 there will be 450 more new apartments in the Downtown and Riverfront Wilmington districts than existed only three years ago.

76 Main Street Wilmington opened 2017 in conversation with 15 businesses looking to locate Downtown.

77 Downtown Wilmington will see at least six new food and beverage destinations open this year.


78
You can now get a cup of coffee in Downtown Wilmington on Sunday. In fact, it’s a Starbucks, located on Market Street.

79 DiFonzo Bakery, a Wilmington institution since 1945, is returning to Little Italy after a 13-year absence.

80 Delaware’s restaurant industry, the largest small business employer in Delaware at 11 percent of the total workforce, expects to add 1,000 jobs each year for the next 10 years. The majority will be at the managerial level.

81 Cajun Kate’s New Orleans Market has been a staple at the Booths Corner Farmers Market for about a decade, but a trip to Pennsylvania during the limited hours of operation wasn’t exactly ideal for Delawareans. Now we can all get our Cajun and Creole fix from Kate and company a little closer to home, thanks to the second location that recently opened in Bellefonte. The dine-in area seats 30.

82 Most sushi lovers were sad to see Kooma leave the Wilmington Riverfront in 2016, but all foodies are excited to see Del Pez reinvigorate the old space. The Newark-based Mexican gastropub got its second location at 400 Justison St. in December, and so far, reviews are positive.

83 Although a location hasn’t been selected or approved yet, we have on very good authority that Grain, one of Newark’s best and brightest new
restaurant stars, will have a sister restaurant in the next year. A second Grain (perhaps in the Wilmington area?) would be something special for fans of great pub fare and a polished craft beer selection.

84 Craft beer lovers can rejoice as they have more choices than ever. The number of breweries has been steadily increasing since Prohibition (when there were none), and as of the end of November 2016 there were 5,005. Ninety-nine percent of them are small and independent craft breweries.


can185
Iron Hill locations started canning their beers a few years ago, and now the regional chain’s resolution for 2017 includes canned beer available at all times at every location. That includes appearances by the Ore House IPA and seasonals like the Rising Sun IPA, with Sorachi Ace hops.

86 Amid the new restaurant, expansion, and canning program, let’s not forget why Dogfish Head put Delaware on the craft beer map: the beer! This year, there will be three new brews, including Saison du BUFF, a collaboration with Stone Brewing Co. and Victory Brewing Co.

87 Odds are you’ve passed the old Bull’s Eye more than a hundred times over the 23 years it’s been open for business. But after a change in ownership, the place is getting a makeover. Craft beer options, carefully prepared comfort food, a refurbished interior and a sparkling new red-and-white sign make this somewhat forgotten stopover a new neighborhood destination.


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Delaware’s growing fleet of food trucks will get another member this spring when Wheely’s Café starts roaming the streets of Old New Castle. A “carbon-neutral mobile café,” Wheely’s will serve locally roasted, fair trade, organic coffee, cappuccino, espresso and tea. Follow them on Facebook for a list of locations where they’ll be setting up shop.

89 On July 22, the Newark Food & Brew Festival will celebrate its 14th anniversary. The Food & Brew, now a rite of summer in Newark, is one of the state’s first craft beer-focused festivals.

90 Delaware’s biggest costume party, the Halloween Loop, returns for its 38th year on Saturday, Oct. 28. How many Donald Trump look-alikes do you think we’ll see?

91 Sounds like it will be a good year for local music. This month will see new albums from Davey Dickens Jr. and The Troubadours and Ringleader, plus a video of the new single from Gozer. Look for Gozer to follow up with a full release, “Sick of Waking Up,” on cassette this spring. Over the summer, count on The Joe Trainor Trio to deliver Three, followed by albums from both The Cocks and Grace Vonderkuhn in the fall.

92 There are rumors of a 2017 Phish Europe tour—or a “baker’s dozen” run at Madison Square Garden.


93
According to BuzzAngle Music’s first-ever yearly report, vinyl album sales in 2016 were up more than 25 percent from 2015, despite the fact that physical album sales were down 11.7 percent and subscription streams (a competing format) rose nearly 125 percent. This is good news for independent record stores such as Rainbow and Jupiter Records. The numbers also give credence to the notion that vinyl is still alive and growing, and that the format offers up-and-coming bands the opportunity to make more money than via streaming options, which—although popular—generally pay peanuts.

94 Chris Berman is retiring from most of his duties at ESPN. It was time. One more “back-back-back-back-back” at the MLB home run competition would have been one too many.

95 Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training Feb. 13—the first precursor of spring.

96 Carson Wentz will be in his second year as the quarterback (and the future) of the Eagles, and Coach Doug Pederson also will be in his second year. No more rookie mistakes?

97 Blue Hens football admits it laid an egg with the licensing fee for season ticket holders and ends the policy for the 2017 season. For good measure, new University of Delaware Athletics Director Chrissy Rawak has brought in a new head coach, Danny Rocco, who led Richmond to playoff appearances in each of the past three seasons.


98
The Flyers are moving in the right direction. As they celebrate 50 years this season, a young team proves they have deep talent and could squeak into the postseason (Hopefully that doesn’t change by the time this is published).

99 Joel Embid is the real deal. Ben Simmons will be on the court soon. The 76ers are returning to relevance.

100 Print media: It’s still here!

Ready for the Challenge

The new mayor faces a lot of old problems in Wilmington. Here, Mike Purzycki tells Out & About how his administration will address them.

After leading the redevelopment of the Christina Riverfront for more than two decades, on Jan. 3 Mike Purzycki will take on a much broader challenge—serving as mayor of Wilmington for the next four years.

Purzycki, a lawyer, former New Castle County councilman and onetime pro football prospect whose career ended when he injured his knee during the New York Giants’ preseason 49 years ago, scored a resounding victory in the November election, securing 82 percent of the vote while topping Republican Robert Martin and Independent Steven Washington.

Despite that overwhelming number, Purzycki takes over what is in many ways a fractured city. He got less than 24 percent of the vote in an eight-way Democratic primary in September that, in this heavily Democratic city, is tantamount to winning the general election.

Contributing to Purzycki’s victory were about 1,250 city voters who heeded a suggestion from Jane Castle, wife of former Republican Gov. Mike Castle, that they change their affiliation from Republican to Democrat so they could vote in the primary. Those switches likely provided Purzycki with the edge he needed to top youthful runner-up Eugene Young by 234 votes and former City Councilman Kevin F. Kelley by 415 as he ended the controversial Dennis P. Williams’ bid for a second term. (Williams finished fourth.)

Purzycki becomes the first white mayor in this majority black city since the late Daniel Frawley concluded his second term in January 1993.

Williams’ term was marked by repeated debates over policing strategies, an ongoing struggle to reduce shootings and violent crime, staffing battles between firefighters and their chief, and the move of the headquarters of the DuPont Co., the city’s most prominent business for more than a century, into suburban New Castle County.

Those episodes overshadowed some of the positives of the last four years, including the first steps toward development of a Creative District downtown, forward movement in community revitalization efforts called West Side Grows Together and Eastside Rising, and the launch of co-working spaces downtown that offer the promise of filling the void created by the departure or downsizing of larger business entities.

As Purzycki puts it in the following interview, “One minute we’re the Chemical Capital and the next minute we’re Murder Town,” a label pinned on the city by a highly critical December 2014 article in Newsweek.

As he prepared to take office, Purzycki sat down with Out & About to discuss key issues facing the city and how he plans to address them.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and space considerations.)

What will the first year of the Purzycki administration look like? What are the key priorities?

I think I’d like to change the aspirations and the culture of the city and city government. I think we have a fine workforce that just needs direction, and I’d like to get them focused on a mission that’s a lot bigger than all of us and go to work every day excited about reaching it.

Are you suggesting that there has been complacency within city government?

I don’t know if there is complacency as much as it is a lack of direction. I hear there are morale issues. I’m not sure where that comes from. If you have direction, if you have goals, everybody doesn’t have the time to indulge every little irritation.

Who will be on your team?

I can’t say right now. I know 60-70 percent of it. I want to bring in people who are genuinely committed to seeing the city turn around.

(Since this article was originally published, members of the new administration have been announced.)

Will any members of the Williams administration stay?

There are people there who have talent. It’s irresponsible to change personnel just to change them.
You have a new council president (Hanifa Shabazz) and major turnover on city council. There’s going to be a lot of “new” in city hall. What are your expectations for getting started right away?

Hanifa and I have been friends for a long time. We share a mutual respect. I know a number of people on council and I have met every single one of them. I don’t expect to agree with them all the time. What is important is how we disagree. Respectful disagreement is good. We’re going to work together. Everybody shares a deep concern for the wellbeing of the city.

Why did you decide to run for mayor? You had the Riverfront, you had plans mapped out. It was a safe position for you.

The concern is that if the Riverfront thrives and the city falters, the Riverfront can only go so far by itself. Watching the city fail while the Riverfront was progressing would not have been very satisfying.

The second thing is the Riverfront, like everywhere, was suffering from the reputation the city had to deal with. One minute we’re the Chemical Capital and the next minute we’re Murder Town. This restrained economic growth. We had to create a cause for optimism. I believe in my abilities to lead the city. I think my skills are right for being mayor at this time.

Since November, the Fire Department has been using brownouts and staffing changes to cut overtime spending. The union says this impacts response time and public safety. What are you going to do about it?

Today there is absolutely no confidence between the rank and file and the chief. There have been a lot of hard feelings that have not been productive for the smooth operation of the fire department. I don’t have to ascribe blame. For me to weigh in (before taking office) would be counterproductive. I intend to have a new chief one of these days. I’m going to select a chief in whom I believe in his or her judgment and that chief will tell me what we should be doing.

By “one of these days,” do you mean soon?

Yes, I expect to have a new fire chief.

The police department has taken its share of criticism over crime problems and varying approaches to community policing. Do you have any preferences on deployments and strategies, and what will your relationship be with the police department?

I have no interest in telling my police chief how to run the department. My sense is, it’s your department. If the department succeeds, you succeed. If it fails, you fail. I intend to hire the best police chief that I can.

I have no particular expertise on how to evaluate the department. Some of the problems have to do with administration, and some of them are structural. We are not competitive with other departments. We have acquiesced to our financial realities and have not acknowledged the impact that has on the performance of our officers. Every time we have negotiations we say “we can’t afford to pay you.” The state and county and University of Delaware continue to outstrip our officers by something on the order of 20 percent. Morale is poor. The pay scale is corrosive and really hurts the functioning of our department. It’s hard for me to make a judgment on leadership. Everyone weighs in on community policing. I believe the job of the mayor is to hire the very best individual to run the department and to be guided by his or her judgment.

I’m going to find the finest police chief around. It could be the incumbent. I’m not going to make that selection on my own. I’m going to be guided by professionals and get recommendations.

The fire and police departments have significant impact on city budget, which has been stressed by the loss of the DuPont headquarters, uncertainty over Chemours and vacancies in downtown office space. Where do we go next? Are we going to have a property tax increase?

The mayor hasn’t raised taxes in four years. We keep getting farther and farther behind. Our deficits aren’t just financial deficits. Our baseline can’t be what it’s going to take to pay this year’s bills; it has to be what it’s going to take to run the city properly in the future. We will put everything on the table. I’ll be as transparent as possible. There are things that are costing us money. We can’t have $45 parking tickets, we can’t have $110 red light fines … everything can’t be directed at raising revenue. My ideal budget is going to be scaling back on some of those punitive revenue measures.

The situation is not dire, but it is daunting. But the variable is the ability of the administration to create such optimism in the minds of the business community and in the residential community that they believe that the people who are running the city can really bring it back and make it something terrific.

The Creative District is aiming to bring cultural entrepreneurs into town. You’ve had experience at the riverfront. How do you see the Creative District having an impact? How big a deal is it?

I think it’s potentially a very big deal, or potentially a lot of noise and nothing much else. If we can support the Creative District, it can be a very big help to redevelopment of that part of the city. If we ignore it, if we just do one or two houses at a time, it will collapse of its own weight. What’s been missing with every little redevelopment in the city has been a coordinated plan to buttress the efforts of the people who have been working hard on it.

You have to concentrate resources. We’re going to identify a very small number of parts of the city that we believe are receptive to concentrated effort by virtually all of our agencies, that can help create some progress, and focus our efforts in those areas. Licensing and Inspections, Parks and Recreation, Public Works—if those resources are concentrated in specific areas, and we take advantage of the land bank that’s being established, we can have an impact.

You have community-based planning initiatives under way—West Side Grows Together, Eastside Rising, Blueprint Communities and others—but there is no strong coordination at the top. Do you need that coordination?

If you don’t have coordination at the top you’re going to wind up achieving very little. If we try to do everything, we’ll get nothing done. Too often we spread out our assets in a way that nothing really meaningful gets achieved.

The Riverfront had four different development areas on the original plan. There were four places we could have gone. We concentrated on one area, to the chagrin of those on the Brandywine, on the Seventh Street peninsula. You’ve got to take an area and work hard and bring your assets together.

Will all these community plans underway go forward, or will they be cut back?

They can all go forward, but everybody has to manage expectations.

There’s a police chief in Charleston, S.C., a former military guy, who says it’s just like the military. You have to take one hill, and hold it, and then you go on to the next one. If you try to take every hill, you’ll get beaten every time. We’re going to take one hill at a time, and right now we’ve got too many hills.
We have to take one or two neighborhoods where we have the best chance of succeeding. I haven’t made up my mind which ones. There are pluses and minuses in a lot of these neighborhoods.

But if you look at what which ones have it most together now … doesn’t that put others who need more help farther behind?

The question is not who needs it more, the question is who is closer to success. We have to go to areas that will be most receptive to our work. Do they have community organizations, nonprofits and private developers working together? Is it a community that wants to support the police? There are a lot of factors. I have no emotional preference for one neighborhood over another.

A racial divide impacts the city. You’re the first white mayor since Dan Frawley left office in 1993. This is a majority black city. How will you address this issue?

I’ll do it head on. I think I understand race in America as well as most people. I have remarkable sympathies with people who have to deal with the wrong side of racial issues all the time. When people get to know me, I think (they’ll see) I can be trusted.

I got a letter from a 17-year-old Howard High student who was worried that I would gentrify her neighborhood. She is genuinely concerned. I’m impressed. I wrote back to her. I want to meet with her and her parents.

Race is a deeply felt division in our society. I don’t expect to walk in the door and change that anytime soon. Over time, you’ve got to prove to people by your actions how you feel about things.
Wilmington cannot be immune to those very powerful national currents about race. If something happens in Missouri, it reverberates throughout the entire country. Wilmington is subject to that. We have to keep the frustration level low enough—by providing jobs and opportunities, by respecting communities, by building community centers and paying attention to people—so when something national happens people aren’t inclined to take it out on local government and on their own neighborhoods.

You’ve worked with Hope Commission, helping ex-offenders when they are released from prison. You’re familiar with the problems of recidivism and structural unemployment. Does that give you more credibility on the East Side?

It does with some people. With some people I don’t think it means much at all.

In a city like this, I think race can be dealt with at a very personal level. You can get out every day to where people live. You can pay attention to people’s concerns in their neighborhoods. You can get licensing and inspections and police out to neighborhoods where people are having problems. You can show up at their homes and talk to them. In a city this small, in a year you can touch a whole lot of people.

You know University of Delaware professor Yasser Payne pretty well. He drew much attention with “The People’s Report,” studying structural unemployment in Southbridge and on the East Side. How will you address this issue?

At the local level we can be so much more effective at incentivizing people to provide jobs (than at the state and national levels). I intend to have an executive to do high-level job creation for people who are generally unemployable. I think you have to be very aggressive about it.

Private employers always have a reason not to hire people with poor employment records but now people are beginning to understand that the only way to restore our city’s health is to get people working. Every restaurant is a potential service job provider. The hospitality business needs to hire. We can talk to our large employers and ask them for their support, to either provide jobs or to fund jobs. We have to go to the state as well, and say you have to help provide some energy around the job situation. I look at this as a very important function of our government. I think Yasser Payne will be very happy with it.

As for the business community, DuPont is largely gone and we don’t know where Chemours will be in a couple of years. You have a lot of things in transition. What are you expecting?

We want to be competing for our young entrepreneurs. We want to build that infrastructure.

I have not given up on large employers. If we build an attractive enough environment, we can attract strong employers. We have lost large employers to the county. People made the easy decision to move to the county. I think we can get them back in time.

We are much more business friendly in many ways than Pennsylvania. If you create an environment that people are drawn to, we can get businesses to come here.

You mentioned the change in labeling from Chemical Capital to Murder Town. The last two years the city has taken a tremendous PR hit. What are your thoughts on changing that story line?

I think there are two sides of it. One, you have to improve the fundamentals, and then you tell your story. The people who say it’s the News Journal’s fault, I think they’ve got it wrong. The newspaper has a responsibility to tell the truth. If someone is getting shot, that’s a story.

People are very afraid to come to the city. All you need is an occasional incident to occur and it reawakens every bad story that people have heard about.

I believe leadership is very infectious. If people believe the people in charge can really manage the city and that there’s a bright future, they will be positive. If people see that there’s a problem solver in charge, with energy, I think there will be optimism about what we can do.

A divided school system has harmed the city. Although the mayor has no control over education, can you offer suggestions and solutions?

Except for the governor, I don’t think anybody has a bigger platform to effect change on any issue that impacts the city than the mayor. You have to advocate.

Part of the dissolution of our city has been because of busing; they have taken all of our kids and scattered them to a dozen high schools all around the county. They’ve lost the stability and the identity that a community school brings. It’s a devastating problem. I hope that we can bring a high school back to within the city.

But we do have the Charter School of Wilmington.

Please.

You’ve got several charters in the Community Education building.

They’re not public high schools.

So charters are not public schools?

For my purposes, no. To me, a public high school is when all the kids in the area can go to the same school. The Charter School of Wilmington has its purpose, and that’s fine. But we’ve got kids getting on the bus at 6 in the morning. Instead of getting an additional hour of sleep, they’re getting up an hour early to take a bus to the suburbs. That’s just wrong.

For the Purzycki administration, what are the yardsticks you will use to determine whether your administration is successful?

One of those measures has to be the incidence of violent crime, not necessarily the number of fatal shootings, but the number of incidents. We’ve got to reduce the violence. We have to build communities so violence is not normalized.

If you start to look at your community, and you reduce blight, you reduce the poverty rate. It would have a tremendous effect to start getting people off the poverty rolls, to build good housing stock.
Objective measures are difficult. I’m not afraid of being accountable, but it’s sometimes difficult to quantify things that are qualitative in nature.