Mayor of Two Cities
Jim Baker wants everyone in Wilmington to believe in its—in their—greatness. There’s just one small problem remaining to be solved…
(page 1 of 10)
From his office on the ninth floor of the Louis L. Redding City-County Building, Wilmington Mayor James Baker pauses before two large picture windows.
Every perspective reveals new building, much of it the result of his vision. To the south are new high rises, the new courthouse on King Street and, beyond, the new residences and office buildings on the Christina Riverfront. Home ownership in the city has, in fact, risen since he took office in January 2001. Wilmington, he says, is on the verge of becoming a world-class city, yet…
“We are our own worst enemy when it comes to believing we are a world-class city,” he says. “We have become isolated. We don’t let our minds think beyond our own lives. If you live on the West Side, you’ve got to know what goes on in the East Side. We have got to make our citizens aware of our progress and make them proud of it.”
Baker is well into his third term in office, a first in Wilmington. Until him, there had never been a three-term mayor. For black mayors across the country, it is also a first. None has ever won a third term. It is a grand accomplishment, but accomplishment should not be confused with legacy.
Baker’s legacy is largely one of building and development so far—$2 billion worth over the past six years. He spearheaded the Wilmington Economic Development Corporation. He championed redevelopment of the Riverfront and Ships Tavern District. He created and funded a Neighborhood Improvement Plan and an environmental enhancement program for downtown neighborhoods, which has generated $100 million to improve streets and walkways.
Baker has also fostered growth of a downtown educational district, which includes a presence by nearly all the state’s colleges and universities. He has created scholarships for promising students, and he has supported the arts.
So it’s no surprise when colleagues say Baker’s tenure has been a master class on how to get the things done. Yet many say Baker’s political face is a mass of contradictions
Page 2: Mayor of Two Cities, continues...