Rocha wins marathon special election for seat on Dover City Council

DOVER – It must have felt like an eternity before Gerald Rocha Sr. found out he had won the city of Dover’s Special Municipal Election to fill Tanner Polce’s vacated 1st District spot on city council on Tuesday.

Mr. Rocha tallied 364 votes to Will Garfinkel’s 303 as he claimed his first position in public office as a representative of the 1st District by a winning margin of 61 votes.

The results weren’t announced until 10:20 p.m., two hours and 20 minutes after the polls closed, as election officials counted and verified a total of 360 absentee ballots at the Elks Lodge #1903 at 200 Saulsbury Road.

The popularity of absentee voting was most likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Rocha was exhausted when he was finally declared the winner. When he is sworn into office in September, he will become the fourth Black man to comprise the nine Dover city councilman, joining David Anderson, Roy Sudler Jr. and Ralph Taylor as minority city representatives.

“I believe I have the leadership experience and knowledge to make necessary improvements to sustain a diverse, vibrant, and thriving community,” Mr. Rocha said. “I want to be sure that when I’m on city council that any decisions I make must benefit all our citizens in the city of Dover.”

During the special election, Mr. Rocha was busy keeping his eyes wide open.

“I’ve got to take it all in, you know what I mean?” he said. “It was a long day. I’ve been (at the Elks Lodge) since six o’clock in the morning and it was an experience being my first time running for public office.

“I took it all in. I watched people come, head nod and wave, and (the end result) makes it all worthwhile, so I’m excited to work with my colleagues on the council and I can’t wait to be sworn in.”

William Garfinkel came up just short and said he might consider running again next spring.

“For a short campaign, I thought we had a good team,” Mr. Garfinkel said. “I tried my best and put my trade and education experience out there, but I didn’t prevail. Congratulations to the winner.”

The 1st District is located in the west and northwest sections of Dover, including neighborhoods such as Bicentennial Village, Fox Hall and Fox Hall West, Heatherfield, Emerald Pointe, along with the Woodmill, Brandywine and Country Village apartment complexes, among others.

The city of Dover Board of Elections will be auditing the special election results at 10 this morning in the City Hall Conference Room at 15 Loockerman Plaza. The results of the audit will be made available for public review.

Members of the election board for the special election include Juanita F. Walker; Anita L. McDowell Boyer; Cherritta L. Matthews; James W. Brockton; M. Milford Caldwell and City Clerk Traci A. McDowell (liaison member).

Mr. Polce’s vacated spot on city council expires in May 2021. Matt Lindell is the other council representative for the 1st District.

Both candidates had concerns about the rise in crime and quality of life issues in Dover. They also have been residents of the city for numerous years, with Mr. Garfinkel having lived in Dover for the past 36 years and Mr. Rocha, who spent 20 years in the United States Air Force, for 22 years.

“The most pressing concerns to the constituents are the city’s rise in violent crime, safety, property issues, and problems with infrastructure,” said Mr. Rocha. “Other matters include downtown parking and speeding through neighborhoods.”

Mr. Rocha is excited to take over Mr. Polce’s spot on city council. It is believed that Mr. Polce made a piece of Dover history when he was elected to be a councilman for the 1st District in May 2017, becoming the city’s youngest representative ever at 26 years old.

Councilman Polce surprised his colleagues at Dover City Council’s virtual meeting on June 8 when he informed them that he would be resigning from his position as city councilman on July 1.

“After numerous conversations I’ve had with my wife I’ve determined that stepping away from my role as city councilman for the 1st District was in our best interests at this time,” said Councilman Polce at that June meeting. “We will be relocating out of the city of Dover with hopes of expanding our family in the very near future.”