SEAFORD -- Ed Butler has seen Seaford transform from a bustling town focused on DuPont chemicals to a bustling town focused on commercial development.
Now, after 25 years working in City Hall, he's stepping down, retiring from the mayor's post this spring and reflecting on the city's past and its future.
"I've really been blessed to serve the people," Butler said in his customarily understated way from his sewing shop in the Nylon Capital Shopping Center. "But I think it's time to let others have the privilege."
The shopping center on the far end of Seaford has been a barometer of the city's fortunes. Named after the city's nylon plant, once an economic powerhouse, it now largely stands vacant, with Butler's shop one of the few remaining establishments.
When he was elected to the council in 1986, Seaford was a different city.
"DuPont was going good, this shopping center was going good," Butler said, noting the city's residential growth at the edges and retail boom on Route 13. "None of that was even around," he said. "But the good Lord's blessed us, and here we are."
In his seven terms on the City Council, he had just one contested election -- a sign of Seaford's congenial politics.
Another sign, Butler noted, is that during the past quarter-century, the council has had only seven or eight changes in its membership, with only three mayors in that same time period: Guy Longo, Dan Short and then Butler.
The city likes stability, he said.
"We always work together," Butler said. "People always ask me, 'How come you're not in the paper and all that?' It's strictly because we do differ, but we try to work them out before we get to that point. ... The people that we've had, the community's been well pleased."
The race to succeed him so far features two of Butler's colleagues on the City Council, Pat Jones and Bill Bennett, though there's still more than a month before the filing deadline. Butler is staying neutral.
Both candidates rate economic development and jobs at the top of Seaford's priority list.
Jones has served on the council for 10 years, and is perhaps best known in the community for the Eastern Shore AFRAM Festival and MLK Day of Celebration she organizes annually. The head teller at the Seaford Federal Credit Union and former owner of a day care center, Jones said she was inspired to run for the council by the late Seaford Councilman Henry Nutter. She would be Seaford's first African-American female mayor.
"Times are changing rapidly and we need to adapt to the changes responsibly," she said. "A successful city depends on all of us working collectively, not just one person."
Bennett has served for 33 years in the Seaford fire company, including a stint as chief. He served on the planning commission before being appointed to fill a vacant seat in 2008, and is involved in his family's well-known Harley-Davidson dealership. He also spent 12 years working for the city on its electrical crew. Bennett said people have approached him to run for mayor before, and with Butler retiring, he thought it was the right time.
Bennett said he would be a "sounding board" as mayor. "It's a small town. I know a lot of people in town and a lot of people know me, so they'll let you know what they think," he said. "You get to set the tone, the direction you're going in."
Both Jones and Bennett applauded Butler's service and leadership.
"He's always had the city's interests at heart the whole time he's served," Bennett said.
Added Jones: "Our views may be different, but our heart beats the same for our great city."
Also open are two council seats -- one held by Bennett, the other by Councilwoman Grace Peterson. Peterson has filed for re-election, as has resident David Genshaw.
The deadline for candidates to file is 5 p.m. March 23. The election will be April 21