The mayoral election will take place on Tues. April 18 and polling will go from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Dover Elks Lodge. (Photo: WBOC) 

DOVER, Del.- Dover community members packed Modern Maturity Center's Palmer Ballroom Wednesday night for their only opportunity to hear directly from the mayoral candidates in this year's election.

The incumbent, Robin Christiansen, faced off against political newcomer Diana Welch.

Christiansen, who has served as Dover's mayor since 2014, said the city holds a special place in his heart. "Dover is my home, Dover is my passion, Dover is my life," he said.

Welch said her experience as a downtown business owner prompted her decision to run for mayor.

"I opened up a business and I was expecting change, hoping for change, and now 22 years later I'm still waiting for change," she said. "For 10 years we've had the same leadership and for 10 years we have not moved forward." 

One of the major topics discussed during the debate was crime in the city.

Welch cited statistics that indicate Dover's crime rate is 108 percent more than the national average.

Though Christiansen said that number is not accurate.

"We take up a number of zip codes all the way to Woodside, Delaware, that we take credit for as crimes in the city," the mayor said. "Those results are skewed." 

Welch suggested that having "beat" police officers could help reduce crime.

"They've done studies here in the last four or five years, and they actually have statistics to back it up and there's about a 12 percent reduction in crime if there is a cop on the beat," she said. "It requires more personal attention from each officer, which means you need cameras in places that they can't be 24/7, and hiring more officers is statistically never the answer."

Though Christiansen emphasized his ongoing collaboration with the Dover Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Thomas Johnson, to enhance the recruitment of officers and promote stronger community relations.

Another hot topic in the debate was vacant buildings in the downtown area.

During the debate Welch shared her view that the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP) has too much on their plate, and that the city should hire an outside real estate expert to address those vacancies. 

She also suggested that following Mosaic's "Capital City 2030: Transforming Downtown Dover Master Plan," which was recently unveiled to the public, would be the key to success.

"We've had multiple studies everywhere from $35,000 to $100,000-- this one was $200,000, and these people know what they are doing. If we shelf this for $200,000, that's virtually criminal," she said.

Christiansen said he wants to make sure those goals are achievable. 

"The taxes we collect don't even pay for our police department, so I'm a big person on dreaming big, but I think if you are going to dream big, you need to have a big wallet or a big backer behind you," he said. 

The election will take place on Tuesday, April 18, at the Dover Elks Lodge, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Only those living within the city limits of Dover can vote.