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Winners in the 2021 Wilmington elections reflect on their victories and what's next


On Tuesday, Wilmington voters reelected their mayor and two incumbent councilmen — and propelled a first-time candidate to the top spot in the polls. WHQR’s spoke with the winners.

Around 7:30 p.m. on Election Night, early voting totals showed Mayor Bill Saffo with a strong lead over challenger Harper Peterson. Even before the last precinct was reported, it became clear that Saffo would be Wilmington’s mayor for another two years.

Asked how he felt to win reelection, he said simply, “I feel damn excited" — adding later that he hoped to continue on the path that the city had been on for the last couple of years.

Councilman Clifford Barnett’s reelection bid came down to a neck and neck race with former councilman Paul Lawler. Barnett said he felt his record helped push him across the finish line.

“I think hopefully my reputation, the work that I’ve done in the community, and I think that people really understood my heart -- and that I’m serious about the work that I do, and I’m serious about making Wilmington a better place for all of us," he said.

Next on Barnett’s agenda are "housing, affordable housing so that people that work here like firefighters, teachers, and first responders can work but also live here. We're also always worried about the infrastructure. And then, of course, my main thing is thinking about partnering. What can we do to make people and not make people but get us to partner and work together? So we can build a better city?"

First-time candidate Luke Waddell was the top vote-getter on city council, a surprise for colleagues and competition alike. On Wednesday morning, he reflected on the win.

“I was always running for third place, I thought if I could win by one in third place I’d be happy, so to take first place by over 400 votes was not even on my radar. It’s really humbling, and now it’s exciting to get in there and work for the people of Wilmington who put me there and all of Wilmington.”

Waddell attributed his victory to staying focused on ‘hyperlocal’ issues and avoiding inflammatory rhetoric. On his agenda: "increase economic prosperity, sustainable and responsible growth, and getting our crime under control."

Wednesday afternoon, Councilman Charlie Rivenbark was out collecting campaign signs. He said he was looking forward to working with the new council.

"[I'm looking forward to] working with our new councilmember Luke Waddell, I think he's gonna do an outstanding job. And I knew all about Cliff [Barnett]. And it'll be a good Council," he said, adding, "and I'm sure the ones that didn't get elected or disappointed, and I hope they won't lose their zest to try it again."

Rivenbark said he wants to continue the work he's been doing, including workforce housing, as well as improving the city's secondary and neighborhood roads, saying, "that's something that everybody whether you're rich, poor, with a car without a car, it's something everybody rides on every day, it's one of the few things that affects everybody daily."

Other issues included dealing with crime and keeping taxes under control.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.