Blake, Gum competing for Millsboro Town Council seat

MILLSBORO — Three Millsboro Town Council terms expire this year and one rests in voter hands Saturday – the town’s first contested election since 2015.

Challenger Denise Blake and incumbent Larry Gum are the candidates for the at-large council seat in the election, which will be conducted by in-person voting only.

Denise Blake

Current council members Ron O’Neal, District 2, and Mayor Michelle Truitt, District 3, are unopposed in reelection bids. All Millsboro council terms are for three years. Millsboro’s mayoral position is selected by council nomination and vote.

Voting Saturday is from 1-7 p.m. at the Millsboro Town Center on Wilson Highway.

Millsboro petitioned the state and was granted approval to hold its election without delay.

Larry Gum

Public health and safety protocols in Gov. John Carney’s COVID-19 state of emergency will be in place.

“Facial coverings and social distancing … we’re working with Department of Elections on a plan for ingress and egress,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “The nice thing is we have that large reception hall. We have two separate sets of doors that are I believe 6 or more feet apart coming in for ingress and egress.

“I think putting a plan in place will be fairly easy to accomplish given the layout of the building, which is why we petitioned the governor’s office to allow the election to take place on time and in person,” Mr. Hudson said. “The governor’s office … they were accommodating while still having an eye toward public health.”

He said the town felt that voting traditionally decreases doubt about the validity of elections.

“There may be that there is a provision somewhere in state or town law relative to absentee voting, but this election will be 100 percent in person,” said Mr. Hudson. “Part of the reason why the town felt strongly about going about it in that way was anytime you deal with absentee or online or what I would consider more nontraditional forms or modes of voting, it can tend to raise a little bit of skepticism in the eyes of the public or at least certain members of the public.

“We felt that it was important to allow folks to vote on time and in a traditional way again.”

Mr. Hudson continued, saying that in-person balloting remains his preferred method.

“Not to say that there is not a way to facilitate nontraditional forms of voting in a way that has a lot of integrity, I’m sure there is,” Mr. Hudson said. “But we just felt like from a public relations standpoint, traditional voting in my sense is still viewed as being kind of the golden standard for how to cast your vote.”

The challenger

Ms. Blake, 59, hopes to continue helping her community as an elected official, providing a voice for all residents.

“I just want to be a voice for everybody. I want to be the voice for the small people that never speak out or they are scared to speak out. I go around and talk to people anyway, and I hear certain concerns,” said Ms. Blake. “I feel like maybe when I win, I can bring that to the table. I can be a voice for them.”

She has a years-long bond with the town, she said.

“I always like helping in my community. I’ve been in Millsboro for seven years. I am originally from Philadelphia. I have always been active. Wherever I live, I am always active, giving boxes out for Thanksgiving, having little comedy shows, going out to check on neighbors. I just like to help people,” said Ms. Blake.

“I feel like this is my time. Instead of sitting here doing nothing, I see things that need to be done to help. My main concern is what others can’t see in our town. To me, it’s kind of fun to help the town that you live in. Each eye can help.”

Her list of issues include the town water, the town park and the traffic in Millsboro.

“Millsboro already is a great place, and it is growing. With great minds together, who knows?” said Ms. Blake, who is married and has six grown children – three girls and three boys – and 22 grandchildren.

A retired nursing assistant, Ms. Blake operates a hair/beauty supply store, Golden Treat Hair & Beauty Supply, in the Rt. 13 Outlets in Laurel.

In addition to her career as a nursing assistant, Ms. Blake’s background includes acting, independent films, stage plays and comedy shows.

Also an author, her biography – titled “I Made It and I’m Grateful” – should be released this fall.

Her goal if elected is to listen to and take concerns from the public to town leaders and work on solutions.

“I’m ready to jump on an issue and concern right away,” Ms. Blake said.

The incumbent

Having previously served several terms on council, including three as the peer-chosen mayor, Mr. Gum came out of “retirement” in February 2017 and was appointed to serve the remaining at-large council term of his good friend, Joe Brady, who passed away the previous November at age 83.

Mr. Gum opted to stay on council and was unopposed in 2017.

“Sometimes, you look for new people, but right now, I’ve been through all of this growth. And I bring experience to the table, which a lot of them seem to appreciate. So, that is why I’ve continued to stay on and run again,” said Mr. Gum, 73. “We’ve got a good council. We always seem to come together as a group and do what is best for Millsboro.”

Mr. Gum, who worked for Delmarva Power for about 37 years and served four years in the Navy/Marines, including a year in Vietnam, is a 42-year member of the Millsboro Fire Co. He was fire chief for about 10 years and currently serves as the company’s safety officer and oversees its public relations and social media.

Amid Millsboro’s residential and business growth, Mr. Gum sees a need for higher-grade medical facilities, most notably an emergency department service.

“Being part of the fire company and having ridden the (Emergency Medical Service) over the years … one of our biggest things is time. We have to travel 20 miles in any direction to get to emergency room services,” said Mr. Gum. “We would love to see something like that closer to Millsboro, because of the time it takes our ambulance to transport and then also to return. They are out of service for such a long period of time. That’s one of the priorities.”

On development, Mr. Gum says he prefers slow growth.

“I don’t like being inundated and getting smacked real hard,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of new residents. Retirees bring the need for services, and the need for services brings people in to provide the services, so it is a domino effect,” Mr. Gum added.

Noting that the John J. Williams Highway Bridge in Millsboro and the Indian River Inlet Bridge north of Bethany Beach are the only ways to cross the Indian River/Indian River Bay, Mr. Gum sees the proposed Millsboro bypass as the solution to traffic congestion, particularly on Del. 24 through town.

“We can’t get rid of the traffic. We’re working with (the Delaware Department of Transportation),” said Mr. Gum. “We’d like to see this bypass around Millsboro. That is my biggest priority.”