OCEAN CITY – Jake Day burst onto Salisbury’s political landscape in 2012 as the fresh-faced, local golden boy and almost immediately injected a positive energy into a political arena that had been somewhat poisoned by years of divisiveness and stalemates.
He was quickly named Council President after winning his seat on the council, and set his sights on the mayor’s position, he says, within months of being elected to the council.
Salisbury elected Jake Day as its next mayor on Tuesday night, and even though he was unopposed, Day was vigilant in his campaigning throughout the race.
We sat down with Day in a crowded coffee shop in the city’s revitalized downtown area to talk about his future plans, and his vision for the Eastern Shore’s largest city.
Q: When you came on the political scene a few years ago, I remember talking with one person who likened you to a young John F. Kennedy: a young fresh-faced Democrat coming into a political arena and re-energizing a community. So, with that said, now that you are the mayor-elect, how do you create Camelot in Salisbury?
A: Well, I think I’d begin by being honest and humble enough to acknowledge and recognize that sir, I am no Jack Kennedy. I think I recognize it takes building a team. We do have to build Camelot here because it’s not enough to be excited. But, I think that enthusiasm for this place can emanate from the mayor’s office and has emanated from the council table throughout the city. There are certainly people, as one reporter pointed out to me last night, that are not on the Jake Day bandwagon. But if we can get 97 percent of the vote, and no one contested me in the race then I think we are getting our message out there well enough.
So, what’s next? What’s next is to start working from the inside out and the outside in, and what I mean by that is we recognize the investments in our core are what matters most. People have big ideas about what they want for Salisbury and things they want to add on, and those additions are wonderful, but the things that matter to us most are our neighborhoods and our downtown. It’s the places where people live and experience the city on a daily basis and the very heart and soul, the place where we are sitting today: our downtown.
Whether you care about jobs, public safety, no matter what the lens through which you see success for this city, it has to begin with this core, and we are going to continue to invest in that, and I believe that puts us in a good place for the future.
Q: Let’s talk a bit about message. You ran unopposed, obviously, but you ran with a tenacity that even people who weren’t particularly on the so-called ‘Jake Day bandwagon’ could look at and say, ‘that’s probably an energy that’s good for the town regardless of whether or not I agree with him.’ Was that purposely done to send a message to the city about the way you intend to govern as Mayor?
A: Yes, and people are going to see me more in the intervening years than they will during an election. Here’s what I want people to know: I’m going to be their ’24-7-365 Mayor.’ I’m going to take the financial hit and this is going to be the only thing I do. I will continue, of course, to serve my capacity as an Army National Guard officer, but other than that, this is what I’m going to do. I’m not going to have another full-time job, meaning, I’m going to be in the office, I’m going to be out in the streets, and the neighborhoods, and downtown, and constantly working for the people. I’m not one of those politicians who fancies themselves as the ‘man of the people’ or trying to be a regular Joe.
I am who I am, and in a lot of ways I’m just an Eastern Shore boy, but I am who I am. But what I mean is that I’ll be walking the neighborhoods with my staff, with our community partners, with our church leaders, with our neighborhood leaders. We’ll be working 365, so that tenacity is not going to die off, it’s only going to increase.
Q: You talk about the people and the forward progress that is certainly happening in this community: the downtown, and the decreasing of the crime numbers. But, if you look at other numbers, particularly the very turnout last night, it was less than 11 percent, and only less than 1,500 people who cast a vote last night. What does that tell you about the work that lay ahead?
A: I blame my opponent for that. An uncontested mayoral race in a strong mayor’s city is going to drag voter turnout into the ground. But, I don’t think that’s the story though. The last time we had a municipal election, which was two and a half years ago, we had 2,700 people come out. I don’t think pride, participation or interest has plummeted in two and a half years.
Q: Well, let’s talk new faces. Shanie Shields, a longtime city councilmember, lost in District 1. April Jackson will be taking her place. Muir Boda wins in District 2. Jack Heath wins in District 3. Your predecessor, Jim Ireton, now takes the council slot in District 4, and of course, Laura Mitchell, ran unopposed in District 5. What will this council, in your opinion, be unified on moving forward and what will be the biggest challenge for these five people and you in finding consensus?
A: I think this will be a council that is concerned about our kids, and concerned about our neighborhood integrity. It will be a council that is interested in investing in downtown and that is concerned with our fiscal health. So, I think it’s going to be a tight knit group in that respect, but we have five personalities there. And you always have different personalities and they will find ways to work together and find ways that they align.
Q: It seems like Salisbury, just in the past few years, has taken a younger and hipper approach (focused on downtown revitalization), and maybe are trying to appeal to the millennial base that goes to college here, but has previously left town after their time in college is over. Is that approach trying to retain some of those young people to stay here?
A: Absolutely. Our median age here is 28.8 years, which is a decade younger than the rest of the state, so this is a place that is poised for growth. But if we release that and don’t try to retain talent, especially the 1200 students graduating from Salisbury University each year, we are going to quickly lose the ground that we’ve got.
Q: You talk about the perception changing in Salisbury toward this younger, hipper and exciting time of development, but in the past several years, the word you connotate Salisbury with is crime problems. Obviously, the crime numbers have gone down drastically, but how far away are you from getting Salisbury to the point where when someone says Salisbury, they immediately think about exciting growth, and not crime troubles?
A: Not far, but here’s the thing: We don’t know our own brand, and we haven’t identified it, nor embraced it.
So, one of the things we have to do right away is go through a branding process and bring people in and find out what Salisbury means to them. What makes us special? What is our brand? We have to identify that. Once we identify that, we have to turn that into the message, and then the layers of the onion that you have around that core, we’ll find the layers that resonate with people about this place. Is crime one of them? Absolutely not, and that will never be the message. So let’s eliminate that, and not talk about that, and talk about the good things. Hopefully, through proactive policing we’ll simultaneously continue to reduce the association of this place with crime.
(To listen to the entire conversation, click online to www.mdcoastdispatch.com/podcasts/)