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Mayor Sills Holds Off Three Challengers; Heads for Second Term

September 8, 1996

DOVER, Del. (AP) _ Wilmington Mayor James H. Sills Jr. is almost assured of a second term now that he’s won the Democratic primary, but the heated contest apparently has split party ranks.

Sills held off three Democratic challengers in Saturday’s primary after a campaign in which his leadership was questioned, his attention to basic city services was criticized, and his administration was castigated for the highest crime rate on record in the state’s largest city.

Sills received 5,379 votes or 50 percent, while his nearest contender, at-large City Councilwoman Loretta Walsh, had 2,942 votes or 27 percent. Robert Poppiti, another at-large council member, had 1,986 votes or 18 percent. Brenda C. Phillips, fired from Sills’ staff last year, drew just 461 votes or 4 percent.

``I’ll be appealing to my opponents to assist me in the healing process,″ Sills said at his victory party.

Poppiti declared: ``I’m a Democrat through and through and I support you.″

But there were no congratulations from Walsh, who has hinted she will support Republican Brad Zuber, Sills’ challenger in the November elections.

``I’m disappointed in her comment that she’s not going to support Jim Sills,″ said Gary Hindes, state Democratic Party chairman.

``On the eve of an election, it’s not very bright politically″ to publicly say you might support the challenger from another party, Hindes said.

However, since Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1, Sills will likely win a second term in the general election.

Voters are split about evenly between blacks and whites. Sills, who became the city’s first black mayor four years ago, had solid support from blacks over fellow black Phillips. Walsh and Poppiti were expected to divide the white vote.

Walsh and Poppiti accused Sills of ignoring basic city services, pointing to dirty streets, graffiti-covered buildings and inadequate police and fire protection.

Shootings and killings have more than doubled in the city of about 73,000, a half-hour’s drive south of Philadelphia.

Domingo Cosme, 41, a computer operator with the DuPont Co., said he voted for Sills four years ago because he wanted a change. This year, he voted for Poppiti.

``My brother got laid off from the city. Fifteen to 20 Spanish people got laid off,″ said Cosme, who’s from Puerto Rico. ``I like diversity. They didn’t help Spanish people at all.″

Olga Williams, 72, retired from the city of Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare, supported Sills but suggested ``he may have had the wrong people around him.″

``Maybe this time he will listen to the people around him who know what is best for the city,″ she said.

In the statewide races, Dennis Williams defeated Ernest Ercole for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican incumbent Rep. Michael N. Castle for Delaware’s lone congressional seat in November. Castle is seeking a third term.

Businessman Ray Clatworthy easily defeated Vance Phillips and Wilfred Plomis for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the November elections. Biden is seeking a fifth term.

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