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 4 of 10)
“I understood their rage—the Young Lords, the Black Panthers, the Muslims,” Baker says. “But days after, when they looked at what they created—there just had to be a better way of getting their voice heard.”
At that time, there were five African-Americans on the 13-member City Council. Over the next several years, Baker, with future council members such as Ted Blunt, Norman Griffiths, Chezzie Miller, Jea Street, Theo Gregory and James Sills, became part of a rising black voice.
Baker worked with gang members in West Center City, which led to a position as deputy director for social and human development for the Haskell administration. He was elected to City Council in 1972.
“Jim generated more legislation than any other councilman,” Pryor says. “His was a serious attempt to get at the issues, to get us thinking. There was a presence about him, and even though he was not an orational wizard, he had tremendous respect from the community because he reached across racial lines.”
The relationship between Blunt and Baker began as one of almost continual argument. “I knew he was a knowledgeable guy,” Blunt says, “and I thought I was a knowledgeable guy, and when you believe you are right, you think anyone who doesn’t believe what you do is wrong. We both thought the other was wrong.”
But Baker taught Blunt something, “that the goal of leadership is to do it for the people,” Blunt says. “He taught me that he and I were going to disagree, but at the end of the day, it’s not really about us. It’s about the people of this city.
“If you’re going to be a leader in Wilmington, the first thing you need is knowledge of the subject matter or the city. Secondly, you need a connectedness to the people affected by policy-making decisions. Third, you need to have the courage to move forward, even though people may disagree. Just because you believe in those principles, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but at least you have the conviction to proceed.
“Throughout his time on the council and as mayor, Jim has possessed all three.”
In 1985 Baker became the first African-American to serve as council president. At some point, he noticed the Christina Riverfront. A thriving center of shipbuilding through World War II, it had disintegrated into a wasteland of abandoned warehouses and industrial equipment. Where others saw a hopeless brownfield, Baker spied gold.
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