After more than two decades as a councilman and mayor, Jim Ford says it's time to move on.
Ford, 61, announced Feb. 13, that he will not seek a sixth term as mayor in Lewes' May election.
“The job has become almost a full-time position if it's to be done right, and it's time for me to spend more time with my family and my construction firm,” said Ford.
Ford was appointed to the Lewes Planning Commission by former Mayor Al Stango. He served with the board for five years before seeking his first elected office as a town council member in 1992. He served six two-year terms on council before succeeding George H.P. Smith as mayor in 2004. He is completing his fifth two-year term in that position this year.
“It's been a privilege to be able to serve the citizens of Lewes and be in office to do what the citizens want its government to do,” he said. “That's what elected officials are supposed to do. It's just a wonderful opportunity to have been able to do that.”
Ford received a standing ovation from those in attendance of a public hearing at city hall Feb. 13. Sen. Ernie Lopez and Rep. Steve Smyk each stopped by the meeting to offer their thanks to Ford for his service.
Deputy Mayor Ted Becker joined council in 2004, the first year of Ford's run as mayor. He said Ford stepped into the role with ease and accomplished great things during his time.
"We've done a lot in the last 10 years and there's more to be done," he said. "He'll certainly be missed."
City Manager Paul Eckrich has worked with Ford closely since joining the staff six years ago. He said the transition will be difficult.
“I'm trying to take it all in right now. It's a big loss for the city,” he said. “He's been the face of the city for a long, long time. He's been great to work with, a great boss and a confidant.”
No one has filed yet for either the mayor's seat or two open city council positions, Eckrich said.
During his time as mayor, Ford saw completion of major improvements to Second Street, the creation of Lewes Canalfront Park and the rehabilitation and repaving of Bay Avenue and its water and sewer infrastructure on Lewes Beach.
Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer said Ford has always gone over and above what should be expected of a mayor.
“It would've been wonderful if he wanted to serve another couple terms, but he deserves to take a break and enjoy living in the city he's worked so hard to build,” she said.
Reamer started working for the chamber 18 years ago. During that time, she said, Ford always looked out for the community's best interests.
“He listens to people, hears their concerns and has just always been there,” she said.
Ford has also overseen major renovations and an addition to city hall, the expansion and major upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and electrical distribution system by the Board of Public Works and several other capital improvement projects involving the city's streets.
Most recently, the mayor helped engineer the $2.5 million purchase of the 5.5-acre Thompson property on Monroe Avenue – contiguous to Stango Park – as the site for a new Lewes Public Library and trailhead for the area's growing cycling and walking trails. He is also serving as honorary co-chairman, with Joe Hudson, for the library construction fundraising campaign.
Ford said he notified members of Lewes Council of his decision earlier this week. He will pass the gavel to his successor following the Lewes Municipal Election slated for Saturday, May 10.
Dennis Forney contributed to this report.