The News Journal | by Christina Jedra
Activists against the dismantling of the Rodney Square bus hub rallied on Thursday, marched to Gov. John Carney’s office building to present a petition and invited the governor and the city’s largest developer to meet with them.
About three dozen supporters of the Coalition to Return Bus Service to Rodney Square delivered a letter to Carney’s communications director and BPG co-founder Robert Buccini requesting a meeting to find “a mutually beneficial solution.”
“This is about special interests against real people,” said the Rev. Lawrence Livingston.
Bus stops were moved away from Rodney Square in December. The justification the government has offered for doing so has shifted. At first, officials cited traffic congestion but later stated that Carney and Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki wanted the square to be solely a park, not a transit hub.
“The governor takes concerns raised by bus riders very seriously, and he is happy to meet again with members of the coalition,” said spokesman Jon Starkey.
“As we have said, Rodney Square was never intended to serve as a bus hub. The route changes ease congestion around the square while preserving options for riders.”
Protesters from the coalition spoke out in numerous public meetings, arguing that stops dispersed around downtown Wilmington are inconvenient and a burden on elderly and disabled riders.
Instead of transferring routes across Rodney Square, some riders have to walk several city blocks to catch connections. If they miss the bus, they could wait for up to an hour at a new bus stop that lacks benches or shelters.
“This winter was terrible,” said Deneen Dinkoski, a 52-year-old Eastside resident and bus rider.
Some riders, including Dinkoski, say their groceries have spoiled while waiting for their connection in the summer heat. She feels politicians would rather move poor people out of sight than tackle issues of poverty.
“They need to address the real problems, not just cover it up,” she said.
Another bus hub is in the works near the Amtrak Station but is years away from completion.
Coalition members have said the governor and mayor are casting low-income people and minorities aside to accommodate businesses such as Chemours and the Buccini/Pollin Group, companies The News Journal found lobbied the governor via email to essentially move the buses out of their front yard. The emails were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
“The integrity of the public hearing process was violated,” said rider advocate Scott Spencer.
Protestors on Thursday held signs reading “1 term Governor Carney” and “Public interests over corporate ones!”
“Put it back! Bring it back! Right now!” Rep. Charles Potter Jr. chanted in a call and response.
The gathering was attended by several candidates for public office including state Senate hopefuls Samuel Guy, a city councilman, and Tizzy Lockman; state house candidate Jakim Mohammed; and U.S. Senate candidate Kerri Evelyn Harris.
“I want to apologize to all the working people of Wilmington,” said state Rep. John Kowalko, who represents Newark. “This is such a backwards step. It infuriates me.”
Kowalko called out the governor, saying he has refused to listen to his constituents and instead makes deals “behind closed doors.”
Purzycki has maintained his position.
“I made a decision that I think is best for the city writ large, the whole health of the city,” he said on Thursday. “You can’t diminish how important it is to have a healthy commercial district… I’m not trying to make life harder for anybody.”
Buccini, who received a meeting invitation from Spencer on Thursday, also stands by his position that buses were bad for business. Asked about accusations of classism and racism, Buccini said: “I would disagree with that.”
“That’s an unfair characterization,” he said, noting that bus stops were relocated outside his buildings.
He feels the removal of the buses has made Rodney Square “far safer,” he said.
“We haven’t had any homicides in Rodney Square,” he said. “We haven’t had any stabbings in Rodney Square.”
He said he doesn’t believe there is a correlation between bus riders and crime.
“We don’t have that row of buses anymore, and it’s a much more hospitable place to live,” he said. “Having a bus hub created a wall, and that wall of buses made it very hard from a public safety standpoint.”
Buccini denied having special influence over Delaware public officials.
The rally on Thursday occurred as protestors await a response from the Attorney General’s office, which will decide if additional Carney emails are released. The coalition filed a records request in December for emails showing the governor’s decision-making process on the bus issue, but months later, they received dozens of unreadable documents redacted with black bars.
Carney invoked “executive privilege,” a constitutional power upheld by the courts that allows elected executives to keep hidden guidance they receive.
“They thought our voices didn’t matter,” said Harris, a Democrat challenging U.S. Sen. Tom Carper. “We will not be quieted… You will not turn your back on us.”