Kowalko to retire after 16 years representing Newark in the state house

Newark Post | by Josh Shannon

State Rep. John Kowalko, who has represented Newark’s 25th District since 2006, will retire at the end of his term, he announced in an emotional speech on the house floor Thursday afternoon.

“There is a time for everyone to pass the baton, and this term is my time,” Kowalko said. “I’m counting on my fellow progressives to continue my efforts. I will work hard for my constituents for the next nine months but in November, I will pass my position as the 25th District representative to a new and hopefully just as progressive successor.”

Kowalko, a retired union machinist and community activist who lives on Kells Avenue, was first elected in 2006, defeating longtime incumbent Stephanie Ulbrich. He went on to be re-elected seven times.

A proud champion of progressive, pro-labor and open government causes, Kowalko has developed a reputation of being unafraid to ruffle feathers, even in his own party.

“The bills I put my name on support ordinary people, working people, parents, children, the homeless and our small business community,” he said Thursday.

He credited his time working at the Delaware City Refinery and as a union steward with preparing him to serve his district.

“These experiences gave me a solid foundation for rules of order and their importance, the power of solidarity and a profound respect for working men and women and their families,” he said. “I have held these values that are so dear to me throughout my career as a legislator.”

Kowalko’s announcement caught many of his colleagues by surprise, and several gave emotional tributes to him on the house floor.

State Rep. Paul Baumbach, of Newark, remarked on Kowalko’s popularity among District 25 residents.

“When you door knock with John Kowalko in the 25th, you find that his constituents want to hoist him on their shoulders,” Baumbach said. “Your passionate work when the data center was proposed in the City of Newark was unparalleled, and your passion down here, month after month and year after year, for those with the smallest voices is inspirational and will be deeply missed.”

State Rep. Eric Morrison, who was elected last year to represent the Glasgow area, noted that his first political experience was campaigning for Kowalko.

“Thank you for all these years being the bold progressive voice that you have been,” Morrison said. “It has often been to your personal detriment, and for saying things that no one else would say and doing things no one else would do, even though a lot of times they needed to be said and done and other people knew that they needed to be said and done.”

State Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, who like Morrison was part of a group of young progressive Democrats elected in 2020, concurred.

“To me, you’re an inspiration and I probably wouldn’t have run for office if it wasn’t for examples like you,” Wilson-Anton told Kowalko.

State Rep. Ed Osienski, of Newark, called Kowalko a mentor.

“I will certainly miss when we have gone out to Iron Hill and had a few beers, and I had to calm you down because you get so emotional and people would start looking at us,” Osienski quipped. “But I always respect you and I’ve always respected your opinions and your passion, and I will definitely miss them.”

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