Primary candidates for the two highest county offices and a newly redrawn Hockessin House district sparred Monday night at a debate sponsored by the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association and the Community News.

Primary candidates for the two highest county offices and a newly redrawn Hockessin House district sparred Monday night at a debate sponsored by the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association and the Community News.

More than 200 people attended the debate, held at Hockessin Memorial Hall.

The forum featured the four Democratic candidate for county executive, the two Democrats vying for county council president and two men squaring off for the GOP nomination for a Hockessin-area House seat.

The New Castle County Executive race was impassioned from the opening statements, when former New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon said the “can’t afford four more years” of incumbent Paul Clark.

Gordon was critical of Clark’s land use decisions, which he said were made to benefit Clark’s wife, who worked as a land use attorney for several high-profile developers while Clark was council president.

Clark denied those charges and attempted to turn the tables on the ethics issue by confronting Gordon.

“You make these wild exaggerations. You need to open the record of your case file that was sealed,” Clark said.

Clark is referring to Gordon’s indictment on federal racketeering charges filed in 2004, when Gordon was accused of having county employees work on campaigns. The felony charges were ultimately dropped in the case, but Gordon did plead guilty to two lesser misdemeanors that did not carry jail time.

The race’s other two Democrats – both rank and file county employees – said ethics are what set them apart from Clark and Gordon.

Jonathan Husband, a parks engineer with the county’s Department of Special Services, said that ethics is paramount in a county leadership role.

“It is extremely important,” he said. “The community demands it.”

 “I have been tested a lot, but never tempted,” added Bill Shahan, who works for the county’s Land Use Department.

Community News Executive Editor Jesse Chadderdon, who moderated the debate, also asked the candidates their views on the ideal size of the county’s police force.

 “We have the greatest police force in the United States,” Gordon said. “I would like to get them to 370 [officers]. Public safety is not the place to save money.”

The department’s authorized strength is 370, but there are fewer uniformed officers currently on the street.

Clark said that when Gordon held the county’s top job, the department only had 325 officers.

“I made a concentrated effort to run two [police academy] classes,” Clark said. “Extra money goes into overtime.”

The winner of the four-way Democratic primary on Sept. 11 will face Republican Mark Blake in the general election.

Prior to the county executive’s debate, the two Democrats for County President took the stage.

Renee Taschner, a retired county police officer, is facing Rev. Chris Bullock, the founder and pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of New Castle.

The candidates were also asked about policing levels.

Taschner said she supports an increase said in order to pay for it, she would encourage early retirement among other county workers who were eligible to do so. Bullock said he would study the budget, if elected, and find places to shift money into public safety.

Asked what the most significant issue the county would have to grapple with in the coming years, the candidates had different takes.

“We need to look at the budget and control spending,” Taschner said.

Bullock, meanwhile, said the county needed to emphasize “responsible development and the crime issue.”

The winner between Bullock and Taschner will face Republican Mike Protack in the general election.

The evening started with two self-described friends – House members Nick Manolakos and Joe Miro – who find themselves pitted against one another in the 22nd District as an outfall of redistricting last year.

Manolakos said the community asked him to stay involved, and that he feared Miro was losing touch.

But Miro said he’s provided excellent constituent service during his years in office.

“I have represented every single person that is here in one aspect or another,” Miro said.

The candidates were asked what they thought the most significant issue the General Assembly will deal with over the next two years.

Manolakos, the assistant principal at A.I. du Pont High School, pointed to economic development through education.

“We need to grow our educational base and put money into early childhood development,” he said.

Miro’s top priority is helping small businesses.

This is a new decade, a new global economy,” Miro said. “We need to look at our own people.”

The winner between Manolakos and Miro will face Democrat Dave Ellis in the Nov. 6 general election.