- Associated Press - Saturday, August 12, 2017

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) - Some 70 years ago, Vincent “Jimmy” Gambacorta’s father told him to stay out of politics, and the gregarious car salesman managed to heed his elder’s advice until last night.

On Tuesday, Gambacorta was appointed by the New Castle City Council as mayor of the city he’s called home for all of his 90 years.

“To be mayor of the town I was born in is a great honor,” said Gambacorta over coffee and biscotti the day after the City Council confirmed his appointment. “I am overjoyed this morning.”

He will serve until April 2019, the remaining term of former Mayor Donald Reese, who resigned because of health concerns earlier this year. The mayor has veto power over the City Council, makes appointments to city commissions and sits on a board that regulates land use.

Unwritten is also the responsibility as the city’s chief figurehead.

“I bet he knows everybody in the state,” said City Councilman Michael Platt, who nominated Gambacorta for the position. “He can walk the halls of Dover and make conversation with anybody. He’s going to be great.”

Gambacorta is the eldest of seven children born to Italian immigrants in the city’s Shawtown neighborhood during the depression.

He said New Castle was more tightly knit during his childhood. Neighbors depended on each other.

He spent his childhood crabbing in the nearby Delaware River, playing baseball in Battery Park and playing drums in an Italian symphonic band with his neighbors.

“We had a lot of fun,” Gambacorta said. “We didn’t know we were poor.”

After graduating high school in 1945, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was stationed in Frankfurt during the allied occupation of Germany. Afterward, he returned home to the family business where the city became most familiar with his name.

Gambacorta said his father had come to America with the goal of owning a business and bought a patch of marshy land near Del. 9 and the Delaware River in the city to establish a car repair garage.

The family business evolved into an Amaco gas station and then into a car dealership that operated from the 1940s into the next century.

“We had a good reputation,” Gambacorta said. “Families brought their children back to buy autos and also their grandchildren.”

He retired in 2002, spending more time curating his collection of thousands of keychains and matchbooks kept in his basement. He’s a practicing Catholic and a commissioner on the Delaware Italian Heritage Commission.

He also writes a column on city nostalgia and colorful characters in the local New Castle Weekly titled “Punstaking Stuff.”

“I talk about the colorful characters we have in town, folks with tricky nicknames, people who did some funny things,” Gambacorta said. “I think being so involved, I got to be known by a few people.”

Consistently ready to toss a joke into the conversation, Gambacorta said he has always thrived around other people but never gave much thought to getting into politics.

“I don’t like sanctimonious politicians,” Gambacorta said.

But when he heard the job of mayor was open, he felt he had something to offer.

“I bring energy to the table, and I thought maybe I can do some good for the city still,” Gambacorta said.

Tuesday’s nomination process was an odd one for the historic city on the Delaware River. The tiny, 19th-century City Council chamber was packed past capacity with residents issuing cheers and amens as the meeting progressed.

When there is a mid-term vacancy in the mayor’s position, the city’s laws dictate that the City Council appoint someone to serve the remainder. Some council members said the city should have scheduled a special election so the City Council could appoint the winner.

“I would like to have had the people elect you, not politicians,” said Councilman John Di Mondi, addressing those interested in becoming mayor at Tuesday’s meeting.

But one by one, eight candidates came in front of the City Council to make a five-minute pitch for the job.

Some spoke about their volunteer work for the city. Others talked about their professional experience. Gambacorta spoke of his parents instilling in him respect for others and his intent to bring residents together. He eventually won the job by council vote.

“I would push for programs for our citizens to work together, showing respect for one another, putting aside all friction, getting rid of all bitterness, to work together to seek solutions to the problems we have today,” Gambacorta said. “It can be done.”

That will be a tough task in a city where residents are fiercely protective of the historic charm.

For example last week, the City Council passed a controversial new law outlining a process to allow parking lots in its historic district. The following morning, two council members awoke to find their homes had been vandalized with spray paint.

“For some reason of late, we have been going in the wrong direction,” Gambacorta said. “We have confrontation, bitterness. I want to strive for eliminating that nonsense.”

On policy matters, he said there will be a learning curve to form opinions about the best path for things like parking. He said he is looking forward to being “in there with both feet.”

“It’s great to have him as mayor,” said Council President Linda Ratchford. “He is well-known and well-liked and has a lot of connections throughout the state that will serve the city well.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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