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Elections / Municipal government

James Spadola is a wild card in state senate run

He's an Iraq War vet, band member, small-biz proponent and, of course, the #HugACop guy.

Officers James Spadola (center) and Aaron Olicker give out free hugs in Newark. (Photo courtesy of James Spadola)

As much as this word is hackneyed, James Spadola is unique — and his “uniqueness” makes him a pretty interesting player in a bid for a state senate seat.
Consider the facts:

  • If you don’t recognize his name, perhaps you know him as the Newark police officer behind the viral #HugACop video. He’s been on the force since 2008.
  • He went to the University of Delaware for political science, which isn’t so unusual until you mention the fact that he interrupted his freshman year — two months after 9/11 — to enlist in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was deployed in March 2003 for a year, where he served as a prison guard and as his battalion commander’s gunner and driver in Iraq. Spadola received the Combat Action Badge when his convoy was hit with an IED.
  • Interested in Middle Eastern culture, he studied Arabic in the United Arab Emirates and Yemen in 2005 (but he says his Arabic is quite rusty now), and he did graduate from UD with honors in 2007.
  • He’s in a band. It’s called James and Matt Acoustic, and they like to play Wednesday nights at Trolley Square’s Kelly’s Logan House.
  • He’s a cop with lots of business savvy: Spadola earned his MBA in 2014 from Wilmington University.
  • And, in a very blue state, he’s a (gasp!) Republican.

But Spadola, 32, said he hopes people vote for the person and not the party. (The primaries, btw, are April 26 and the general election is Nov. 8.)
“I think there’s a horrible stereotype of Republicans that’s absolutely awful,” he said.
He calls himself socially liberal and fiscally conservative. “The epitome of my philosophical beliefs really comes down to this: I want the government to stay away from our bodies, stay out of our bedroom and as much as practically possible, stay out of our bank accounts.”
Take for example, the decriminalization of marijuana.
The Wilmington resident is more than fine with it, and in fact, he thinks the new rules will be confusing for police officers to follow, saying they’ll probably need a flowchart for figuring out which regulations apply in specific situations. “We need to look at a further liberalization of our drug policies. … Especially in terms of community policing, it would reduce a lot of negative encounters between police and the public by not outlawing victimless crimes.”
Spadola is running against state Sen. Harris McDowell (D), who has represented District 1 since 1976 and has previously served as majority whip and majority leader. But Spadola said he thinks the state legislature is ready for new blood, and that if elected, he has no choice but to daily prove that he’s the right guy for the job.
He’s a big proponent of finding ways to attract small businesses and startups to Delaware and believes legislators need to be advocates for local businesses once they’re up and running. “It’s very simple,” he said. “Legislators can be ambassadors for businesses by showing up at events, tweeting about them — it’s publicizing for free.” He also said legislators should build relationships with small businesses and figure out ways to help them succeed.

Spadola said he’s been to several Delaware events and is excited about the entrepreneurial talent and more cohesive network he’s seeing.
He’s also for more open data and transparency — and said he’s seen positive results with the Newark Police Department sharing crime data online.
Spadola said he’s concerned about talk of raising the minimum wage, saying it will hurt small businesses and eliminate jobs, and about increased state property taxes. If elected, he’d like to find ways to rejuvenate the Philadelphia Pike corridor and bring new businesses there.
But he also would try to protect Delawareans from government over-stepping is boundaries. “I think a lot of me wants to go there to play defense,” he said, “and prevent what I view as harmful legislation.”


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