Ireton explains decision to seek City Council seat

Mayor Jim Ireton, who filed for a City Council seat representing District 4 on Monday, said if he’s elected he’ll continue to concentrate on the three goals that have been his focus – Downtown revitalization, neighborhood integrity and environmental health of the Wicomico River.

“The initiatives don’t change from one side of the hallway to the other. They’ll be the same,” he said.

There was speculation the 45-year-old,  who served on the City Council in the 1990s before being elected mayor twice, would seek a higher, state office, but he said those elections are in the future, 2018 for the county and 2016 for Congress.

So, he stayed local and filed in plenty of time for the Aug. 18 deadline. The election is Nov. 3.

District 4 encompasses the central and northside neighborhoods in Salisbury.

As he looks toward his political future, Ireton  remains proud of accomplishments, including improvements to downtown from 2009 to 2015 and a healthier Wicomico River than in past years. In fact, he’ll make a presentation about improving water quality at the MACO Convention in Ocean City this week.

“When have you ever heard of Salisbury talking about how to improve water quality?” he said.

“Our laser light focus has been on neighborhood issues, trying to get people involved in taking responsibility for our neighborhoods,” he said.

Also during his term, the first female neighborhood services director and police chief were hired.

As city councilman, Ireton said it won’t be any easier or harder to push for changes that will improve the city than it has been as mayor.

“No, it’s apples to oranges. My job would not be to tell the mayor what to do, or to tell the department heads what to do. My job would be to try and write successful legislation that gives power to department heads,” Ireton said.

A mayor, he said, has the responsibility of administrating, and he is confident he succeeded.

“We had a very direct  focus. We’ve never been more focused on downtown revitalization, on the river. The task force initiative that was handed to me in 2009 is all done,” he said.

Salisbury isn’t unique in its struggles. Other cities have the same problems. During his travels, he’s seen boarded downtown buildings and heard about similar worries in places like Pocomoke City, old downtown Laurel, Frederick and Hagerstown, he said.

One of the most difficult missions has been “having to rally and be a cheerleader for those who would take the bleakest view of Salisbury, people who can’t get out of their own way and see the good in this city. I’d like to give them a ticket to someplace else,” he said.

“I am super sensitive about people dissing this place. My perspective is, I was a kid from a broken home. If anybody had said, when I was 6 years old, that I’d graduate from college and go to graduate school and be mayor someday, I would have heard, ‘That’s not possible.’ But here I am,” he said.

Many, including City Council President Jake Day, who is running for mayor, have praised his accomplishments, but Ireton was quick to wave aside kind words from politicians and those he considers “the establishment,” saying his concentration is on residents, people with real-life problems like rental housing infested with cockroaches and a landlord who won’t help.

“Those are the people I’m concerned about. The establishment are  not my voters,” he said.

During his years as mayor, he said, the city has “been through an awful lot of things — crime going down, a flare up with (former Police) Chief Webster, a lawsuit against me. There are people in town who don’t want change or they only want to change what they think is important.

“But I never expected it to be any different than it was. People sent me here to do something. I told them help was on the way and it was. I have five more months,” he said.

Among his plans during the remainder of his term is hosting a public forum this Thursday with several leaders, experts and speakers to discuss problems that led to back-to-back murders last week.

“Is this happening because there is no upward economic mobility for African-Americans?” he asked after a 17-year-old and 21-year-old, both African-American, were shot to death, one early Sunday and one the following afternoon.

“Forty-three percent of African-Americans live below the poverty line here in Salisbury compared to 23  percent of white residents. We have to ask the hard questions. Is any of this domestic related? Gang related? My question is, where did the shooter get a gun? Was it legal?” he said.

The meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. at the fire headquarters on the West Side.

If voters return him to the city council, it will be a different position, one that will require a change of perspective, he said.

“Is it going to be as much fun as being mayor? I don’t know. But it’s about finding the best place for your efforts. I am there because people who live in our neighborhoods know they have to have a champion on the city council,” he said.

“If there is one thing our community knows about me, I’m going to  stand up for neighborhood integrity.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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