In spite of a grassroots effort urging him to run as a write-in candidate, Sussex County Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton said he will not pursue that process. “I'm not going to do it. The people spoke, and they did not choose me,” he said in a Sept. 17 interview. “I really do appreciate all the support people are showing me.”
According to unofficial results, Mark Schaeffer defeated incumbent Burton in the Sept. 15 primary by 44 votes, 3,164 to 3,120. Schaeffer finished with 50.35 percent of the vote compared to Burton with 49.65 percent, a .7 percent difference. Results will not be official until Friday, Sept. 18.
Although slim, the margin does not trigger an automatic recount. According to election officials, a .5 percent margin or 32 votes would have been required.
Burton, of Lewes, has served one 4-year term on council after serving 11 years on Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission.
Schaeffer, also of Lewes, is the former mayor of Smyrna and Little Creek, and ran unsuccessfully against Burton in 2016.
Schaeffer, who has been collecting his campaign signs for two straight days, said he was recruited by HOAs, business people and concerned citizens to run for the council seat. “I was somewhat reluctant at first because it's difficult to unseat an incumbent and it takes a lot of time away from the family,” he said.
He said when the decision was made to file, he started the wheels of his campaign, which included a blitz of campaign signs, advertising, direct mail, phone calls and door-to-door meetings with voters.
He said that was in stark contrast to Burton, who did not go out to meet the public. “We have an obligation to get out and meet the voters and citizens. It's not their job to find you,” he said. “It made a huge difference. I enjoy it because you meet a lot of wonderful people. We all have the same concerns about family and prosperity.”
Burton: Lack of support in Lewes
Burton said the biggest surprise was the lack of support among Lewes Republicans. “I really thought I had Lewes, but I lost big time. Just at Cape Henlopen High School, I lost by 60 votes. That was more than enough to win the election,” he said. “It's upsetting to me, but not the end of the world. Mark's campaign tactics were different than mine, and maybe mine were wrong.”
Burton said Schaeffer received substantial financial support from a few prominent Sussex County families.
“I guess you can now buy a county council seat for $150,000. I would not spend that kind of money,” he said.
The councilman, who will remain in office for the remainder of the year, said he and his wife, Jullie, will now speed up plans to build a new house and move to Rehoboth Beach, which is out of District 3.
Push for write-in campaign
On Sept. 16, a petition drive urging Burton to run as a write-in candidate was started by Lewes resident Patty Drago. Nearly 200 people signed the petition the first day it was posted at change.org.
Drago wrote the following on the petition: “I.G. has been a breath of fresh air and has earned re-election. This is not about political party affiliation; it's about getting the right representation on county council, someone who takes the time to understand the complex issues facing Sussex, who understands the need to represent all interests, and who strives for fair and balanced solutions.”
Green wins District 2 primary
In the Sussex County Council District 2 Republican primary, Cindy Green of Greenwood, with 1,431 votes, defeated Georgetown residents Robert Wilson, 1,150 votes, and Lisa Hudson Briggs, 1,086 votes. Without a Democratic challenger, Green will replace retiring Councilman Sam Wilson, who served for 12 years, to become only the second female elected to council. Green is serving in her 10th year as Sussex County Register of Wills.
There are no Democratic challengers in either district race. Council members will be sworn in during the first meeting in 2021.