was divided at the meeting on Feb. 19 over whether the next round
will be decided by Council or at the polls in the November election.
But there appeared to be general agreement that politics played
the decisive role in the defeat of the code.
not about the content of the legislation; this is about other
things," said Steven Peuquet, of the University of Delaware's
School of Urban Affairs & Public Policy.
think we failed because of lack of logic or reason," said Fred Quercetti,
president of the Delaware Apartment Association. "We're in
a political process. The rental code will be in the dialogue
[during] the political campaign."
president Christopher Coons, who convened the taskforce and was
lead sponsor of the defeated legislation, said that he had hoped
the session would be the start of a renewed effort to come to
terms with County Executive Tom Gordon and the administration.
however, refused to permit anyone from the administration to
attend the taskforce meeting. In a letter to Coons, which Coons
read at the meeting, Gordon said he regarded any further
discussion of the matter as likely to be "unproductive" and
repeated a previous contention that the proposed ordinance was
drafted, in large part, to further the interests of the
apartment owners association. He accused the association of
Hoffman, housing chairman of the Civic League for New Castle
County, said that civic organization still backs efforts to
enact a rental code. It is "very interested in making that
happen" and, toward end, enacted a resolution at a recent
meeting "encouraging both sides to come together and work at a
solution" to their differences, he said.
earlier in the meeting Coons cut off comments adversely
reflecting upon the opposition of Gordon and chief
administrative officer Sherry Freebery to the measure, he all
but declared the issue pivotal in his efforts to succeed Gordon.
legislation that, come hell or high water, I'm going to see
passed," he said.
he is prohibited by law from serving more than two terms, Gordon is
ineligible to seek re-election. For several months, Freebery and
Coons have been sparring in what clearly is a warmup for an
intense and likely bitter primary election campaign to secure
the Democratic Party's nomination to run for the office in
November. Gordon, who also is a Democrat, supports Freebery.
charged that the open declaration of not cooperating with the
taskforce followed a long period during which the Department of
Land Use deliberately stalled in providing it with information.
"The data we asked for we didn't get until the last few weeks"
before Council voted on the measure, he said. He characterized
attempting to get further information at this point, possibly by
using the state Freedom of Information Act, as likely to be "a
futile bureaucratic exercise."
reality is that with all this political maneuvering, nothing is
getting done" to address the perceived problem of poor
conditions in a significant portion of rental housing in New
Castle County and, in particular, rental housing for poor
people, Coons said.
he expected to garner six votes to enact the ordinance. As it
turned out, Coons was
joined by Councilmen William Tansey and Robert Weiner on the
short end of the four-to-three vote. Voting against the
ordinance were Councilwomen Karen Venezky and Patty Powell, and
Councilmen Penrose Hollins and Robert Woods. Tansey and Weiner
are the only Republicans on the Council. Four votes were needed
for passage and five to override a certain Gordon veto of the
said he still is attempting to sway some opinions, but has found
that, in the face of "some very difficult political peril ...
there is no stomach to revisit the issue" among his colleagues.
No other Council members were present at the taskforce meeting
although he said all were invited. Aide Lou Hinkle said he was
representing Weiner, who still supports the proposed code.
"has said that no [legislation] is better than [our] bill,"
"A lot of
money, a lot of time and a lot of effort was spent trying to get
this done. Forty people (taskforce members) spent well over
1,000 hours working on this. ... In the six months [leading up
to the Council vote] three major changes were made [to the
original draft ordinance]," he said.
Nevertheless, Coons indicated that he might be open to further
compromise. Noting that opposing Council members have told him
they voted against the proposed ordinance because it provided
for merely registering owners of rental properties and not
requiring them to obtain permits. In testimony before Council,
Charles Baker, general manager of the land use department, said
the ability to suspend or revoke a permit would be necessary for
effective enforcement of the code.
not something that we (the taskforce) worked through in detail,"
Coons said. "I'd be perfectly willing to have that exploration."
however, reiterated the position that his group had taken in
opposition to requiring permits that could be easily lifted.
"That will drive insurance companies and [mortgage] lenders
crazy," he said.
agreement among taskforce members that, although the legislative
process is presently stalled, other approaches are open.
existing code enforcement policy provides for property
inspections and taking action in response to code violations
upon receipt of complaints from any source, Coons urged civic
associations to become aggressive about entering complaints
against properties where there are visible exterior conditions
that warrant attention.
Christopher White, a tenant advocate with the Legal Aid Society
of Delaware, said there is no reason why the taskforce cannot
secure private sponsorship to produce and distribute the
'tenants guide' that the ordinance would have required landlords
that insurance and mortgage companies routinely have rental
properties inspected to safeguard their interests, Quercetti
pledged his organization's support for an effort to obtain
accurate data on actual conditions. The apartment association
claims to represent owners of 20,000 of the estimated 35,000
rental units in the county.