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Wilmington Mayoral Race Most Heated in Primary

September 7, 1996

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) _ Mayor James Sills didn’t have time to party with the Democrats in Chicago. The city’s first black mayor stayed home to campaign.

Wilmington voters head to the polls Saturday to help decide if he’ll be on the ballot for a second term as a Democrat, but Sills’ challengers blame him for too much violent crime and too few police officers.

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

The crime rate, coupled with dissatisfaction with city services, helped prompt three Democrats _ including Sills’ former campaign manager _ to challenge the 64-year-old former state lawmaker in Saturday’s primary.

Two of them, at-large City Council members Loretta Walsh and Robert R. Poppiti, have criticized Sills for ignoring basic city services such as clean streets, graffiti-free buildings and adequate police and fire protection. The third, Brenda C. Phillips, was Sills’ campaign manager in 1992 and was fired from her job as community affairs director last year.

Just this week, the city’s fraternal order of police put up a billboard warning motorists they’re entering a dangerous city where shootings and homicides are up and the police ranks are down.

In a park across from Sills’ house, retired sanitation worker Oscar L. Jackson points to the need for a park restroom and a working water fountain.

``Sills? No. You mention Sills’ name and you’re asking for a fight,″ said Jackson, a Democrat and the mayor’s neighbor. ``Ain’t no toilets in here, so what’s he doing? I don’t think anybody around here wants to vote for him.″

Sills bristles at the criticism, saying the city is better off since he has been in office and he has solved a lot of budget problems he inherited.

For all the talk about issues, Sills is expected to get a second term. In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1, the primary winner will likely be the next mayor after facing GOP challenger Brad Zuber in November.

Sills, a former professor, stayed home last month from the Democratic National Convention to canvass for the most heated primary race.

Also to be decided is a three-way GOP contest to decide who will challenge Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. The favorite is businessman Ray Clatworthy.

U.S. Rep. Michael Castle, the Republican incumbent and former governor, is the favorite to defeat the winner of the Democratic primary for the state’s lone congressional seat.

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