Newark Post | by Josh Shannon & Jacob Took
In the two most-closely watched local legislative races, Republicans Michael Smith and Michael Ramone both overcame deficits in party registration to hold onto their seats in increasingly Democratic districts.
Smith won 63 percent of the vote, while retired engineer and business owner Luann D’Agostino won 37 percent – a difference of nearly 4,000 votes. That’s a dramatic improvement over 2018, when he surpassed a different Democratic opponent by just 140 votes.
The district encompasses an area to the northeast of Newark, including North Star, Pike Creek and parts of Hockessin.
“I feel validated,” Smith said Tuesday night. “I think this was a campaign about hard work versus opportunism, and I think hard work won tonight. I think that’s what people want. People want campaigns and politicians that are about people and not about parties.”
Smith is a Pike Creek native and a graduate of Wilmington Christian School and the University of Delaware. He works as Director of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships at UD’s College of Health Sciences. Previously, he was the director of the now-defunct Greater Newark Economic Development Partnership, which was a partnership between City of Newark, the University of Delaware and the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce.
He was first elected in 2018, replacing the retiring Rep. Joe Miro.
As he did two years ago, he was able to overcome party registration numbers that are not in his favor. District 22 is 39 percent Democrats and 33 percent Republicans, which is even more Democratic-leaning than it was two years ago.
With Smith and Ramone two of only a few Republican legislators left in New Castle County, their seats were targeted by the Democratic Party this year.
During the campaign, D’Agostino made an effort to tie Smith to President Donald Trump and far-right Senate candidate Lauren Witzke and criticized him for opposing vote-by-mail legislation and the governor’s coronavirus restrictions.
Smith said his victory shows that elections don’t have to be about party.
“If you think parties have the only answer, then you’re wrong. Parties don’t have monopolies on good ideas, people do,” he said. “If you talk to the people in your district, that’s going to be how you represent them. I’ve worked really hard since being elected to understand what the district wants, how to best represent them and to get their feedback on issues before I do things.”
Tuesday brought mixed results for New Castle County Republicans. While they retained Smith and Ramone’s seats, they lost two state Senate districts, where Catherine Cloutier and Anthony Delcollo were unseated.
The GOP performed poorly in Delaware overall, with all statewide seats remaining in Democratic control.
“I think the Republican Party needs to start going into constituencies and better understand, what do they want? How do they not feel represented, and how can we best serve them?” Smith said. “We need to get rid of politicians and we need to get back to public service.”
With a second term, he hopes to complete several initiatives he worked on this session but were derailed by the pandemic. One bill would offer licensing for clinical exercise physiologists, a program piloted by UD’s College of Health Sciences.
Another would provide mental health counselors to all elementary schools.
“One thing that made me passionate about it was just some of the trauma that I went through as a kid and the need to try to tackle that,” Smith said during the campaign. “It would be much different than your traditional school counselor. You’d still have your school counselors; this would actually be a whole new unit count to deal with mental health or social work.”
Meanwhile, Ramone once again held off a challenge from Democrat Stephanie Barry and will represent District 21 in the state house for a sixth term.
Ramone won with 53 percent of the vote Tuesday, while Barry took 47 percent. His margin was just slightly better than 2018, when he defeated Barry, 52-48.
District 21 is 48 percent Democrats and 28 percent Republicans.
“Thank you to every single person who helped with our campaign, walked the neighborhoods, dropped literature, made phone calls, shared my posts, and came out to vote. Today, integrity, honesty, and hard work paid off,” Ramone said in a statement to supporters Tuesday night.
During the campaign, Ramone said he has kept busy supporting constituents through the COVID-19 pandemic.
He pointed to his work with the state’s small business caucus, where he works with legislators across the political aisle to meet the needs of local business owners. Economic recovery from the pandemic shutdowns, he said, make this work all the more critical.
Another priority for Ramone is rethinking school funding. He said that he’s ready to do the hard work getting from the current model to something that works better for student success.
Every elected official, he said, has two focuses.
“One is their constituent services, taking care of your people and getting the roads done,” he said. “The second is to do the best you can to do no harm to the state and create ideas and vision that the state can run better.”
District 21 stretches northeast of Newark, from Paper Mill Road to Limestone Road and Kirkwood Highway.
8th Senate District
Incumbent Democrat David Sokola was unopposed, securing his 10th term.
A resident of the Beech Hill neighborhood north of Newark, Sokola is retired from DuPont and works part-time as a fitness instructor.
District 8 covers nearly the entire city of Newark as well as parts of North Star, Pike Creek and Hockessin.
9th Senate District
Democrat Jack Walsh survived a challenge from former Newark councilman Todd Ruckle to secure his second term serving District 9 in the state Senate on Tuesday.
The district includes the extreme eastern part of Newark – including White Chapel, Fountainview, Stafford and Windy Hills – as well as parts of Pike Creek, Stanton and Newport.
Walsh won with 67 percent of the vote, while the GOP’s Ruckle won 33 percent.
A resident of the Montclare neighborhood in Pike Creek, Walsh is a member of IBEW Local 313 and works as a project manager for an electrical contractor. He also serves as vice president of the Delaware SPCA.
He was first elected in 2016, winning a two-way Democratic primary and running unopposed in the general election to replace the retiring Karen Peterson. He spent his first four-year term championing pro-labor issues.
During the campaign he said that his main priority for his second term would be dealing with the effects of the pandemic.
“I’ve spent a lot of time helping to direct both constituents and businesses where to go for assistance, so I know we’ll be dealing with that issue, as we come out of the pandemic, hopefully, shortly,” he said.
He plans to fight for a “liveable, sustainable wage” and wants to make permanent the vote-by-mail provisions that were approved during the pandemic but will sunset after this election.
He also wants to continue pushing for state funding for basic special education in kindergarten through third grade. A bill to do so was introduced in the current session but was never voted on.
18th House District
Incumbent Democrat David Bentz was unopposed for his fourth term.
He lives in the Whethersfield neighborhood in Bear.
District 18 covers part of the Del. 4 corridor east of Newark, including neighborhoods like Harmony Woods and Brookbend, as well as parts of Christiana and Bear.
23rd House District
Incumbent Democrat Paul Baumbach was unopposed and won his fifth term.
The financial advisor from the Evergreen neighborhood of Newark was first elected in 2012.
District 23 covers the northern half of Newark and extends north to Corner Ketch Road.
24th House District
Democratic State Rep. Ed Osienski won re-election against Republican candidate Gregory Wilps and will go on to represent District 24 for a sixth term.
Osienski won with 71 percent of the vote, while Wilps, a political newcomer, took 29 percent.
“It’s a great feeling, knowing that the constituents of the district want me to continue to serve as their representative,” Osienski said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m honored to be representing the 24th district again. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.”
First elected in 2010 with 68 percent of the vote, Osienski ran unopposed in 2012 and 2014, and bested Republican challengers in 2016 and 2018 with 69 percent in both elections. After a decade representing the district, Osienski said during the campaign that constituent services remain his top priority.
With the worsening COVID-19 pandemic on the minds of many voters, Osienski has worked to connect constituents with unemployment benefits, as well as access to testing. This year, his campaign has focused on communicating health guidance from experts to constituents.
“The majority of Delawareans are taking COVID-19 seriously, and are following the guidance of our public health professionals,” he said. “As a state, we need to continue that messaging on the importance of wearing a face mask and social distancing. The key thing is stopping the flow of misinformation and listening to our public health professionals.”
School reopening is particularly important, and Osienski stressed that school districts should get the support they need to adopt the strategy that works best for the safety of students and staff.
With his next term, he hopes to bolster renewable energy in the state and plans to continue working on the sustainability legislation he previously co-sponsored with State Sen. Harris McDowell. He also hopes to double down on his efforts to legalize marijuana use for adults after previously introducing a bill which failed to gain enough support for a general house vote.
District 24 includes parts of eastern Newark, including Fountainview, White Chapel and Stafford neighborhoods, as well as Brookside, Scottfield, Chestnut Hill Estates and surrounding areas.
25th House District
Incumbent Democrat John Kowalko was unopposed and won his eighth term in the state house.
Kowalko, a retired union machinist and community activist who lives on Kells Avenue, was first elected in 2006.
District 25 encompasses the southern half of Newark, from Main Street down to just south of Old Baltimore Pike and from the state line west to South Chapel Street.
26th House District
Newcomer Madinah Wilson-Anton cruised to victory over her Republican opponent in the District 26 state house race on Tuesday, making history as the first Muslim elected to the Delaware legislature.
Wilson-Anton, a Democrat, won 72 percent of the vote, while her opponent, University of Delaware transit supervisor Timothy Conrad won 28 percent.
District 26 encompasses an area south of Newark and parts of Bear and Christiana.
Wilson-Anton, who lives in Westover Woods and works as a policy analyst at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute, first made waves in September, when she defeated 11-term incumbent John Viola by just 43 votes in the Democratic primary.
Wilson-Anton, 27, drew support by promising to pursue a more progressive agenda than the more moderate Viola.
“People want progressive change, and the establishment has not given us that,” she said during her campaign.
Wilson-Anton vowed to fight for affordable housing and accessible childcare, and one of her main platforms is education funding reform.
“Our funding system is antiquated,” she said. “It’s based off of local wealth and not on the need of students. We are one of the few states that still doesn’t apportion extra funding for students that need more. So that’s really the main thing that I’m interested in changing.”
27th House District
After an insurgent primary victory, Democrat Eric Morrison easily won the general election Tuesday and will represent District 27 in the state house.
A political newcomer, Morrison won with 61 percent of the vote, while Republican Donald “Tripp” Keister III took 37 percent and Libertarian candidate William Hinds took 2 percent.
“I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling ready to get to work,” Morrison said in an interview Wednesday. “To everybody who voted for me, just thank you so much for your faith in me. It really does humble me, and it makes me want to make sure that I’m serving them, but also I’m fully committed to serving everyone in my district.”
A Delaware native, Morrison graduated from the University of Delaware in 1994. He worked for years in education and healthcare before moving more recently to human resources.
Morrison ousted six-term incumbent Rep. Earl Jacques in the September primary.
After knocking on over 10,000 doors and making over 11,000 phone calls to voters, Morrison commended the network of volunteers which made up his campaign for their hard work. During the campaign, he said that responding to COVID-19 was at the center of their work.
“We’ve referred people for social safety net programs and emergency food assistance. We’ve referred small businesses to places for grants and financial assistance. We’ve even taken face masks to people,” Morrison said. “I want people to know that I understand how important that part of the job is, and how a lot of what you do happens right in your district.”
Morrison supports unions and will advocate for a minimum wage increase. He also hopes to address statewide criminal justice reform in collaboration with other legislators, the attorney general and community groups.
Education, he said, is another top priority on the minds of voters amid a uniquely challenging school year. As a former educator, he supports changing the way schools are funded. Still, he said his day-to-day will be focused on constituent services like getting potholes filled, improving traffic and addressing drainage issues.
District 27 reaches south of Newark, from Sunset Lake Preserve to Lums Pond State Park.
County Council President Karen Hartley-Nagle, who survived a three-way primary in September, easily won a second term, defeating Brian Whitaker from the Independent Party of Delaware 84 percent to 16 percent.
County Executive Matt Meyer was unopposed on Tuesday’s ballot after defeating a primary challenger in September and secured his second term.
Lisa Darrah was unopposed in her run for clerk of the peace and will replace longtime incumbent Ken Boulden, for whom she currently serves as deputy clerk.
In the two Newark-area county council races, District 9 councilman Timothy Sheldon and District 11 councilman David Tackett both ran unopposed for their fifth terms.