In an emotional address held Tuesday night in the City Council chambers, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day officially announced his resignation effective Jan. 27.
Council members, in response, named Council President Jack Heath as Acting Mayor to serve the remaining nine months of Day’s term.
Earlier Tuesday, Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore announced Day was his nominee to serve as the state’s Secretary of Housing and Community Development.
Day said he had little if any hesitation in accepting Moore’s appointment.
“My Governor asked – and I said yes,” Day told the assembled crowd.
“As I shared with the council in my letter notifying them of my resignation, I find no joy in leaving the job that I feel I was born to do,” he said. “I will forever think of myself as once your Mayor, and I think I will forever long to be your Mayor again.”
One of the larger departments in state government, DHCD is tasked with promoting and preserving homeownership, creating and protecting affordable rental housing opportunities, and providing revitalization and redevelopment initiatives that change Maryland’s communities for the better.
For the next 10 days, Heath will step into a regular council position, with Muir Boda serving as Council President and April Jackson as Vice President. Boda and Jackson were elected to the posts unanimously.
Heath said he will file to run for Mayor later this year; the nonpartisan city election is Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Day is leaving after serving 10 years in city government – two years as a council member and eight years as the city’s top leader. Heath has served as Council President for eight years.
Heath’s elevation means there will be a council vacancy in District 4. The council will have four weeks from Jan. 27 select someone to fill Heath’s unexpired term.
Leading the state’s Housing and Community Development efforts would appear to be a responsibility for which Day is well-suited. In 2021, he launched Salisbury’s “Here Is Home” initiative, aimed at increasing the city’s housing stock, as well as affordability.
Salisbury is facing a housing deficit – the program waives city fees normally charged to developers and has resulted in applications for 8,094 units of single-family houses, townhouses, duplexes, apartments and assisted living.
Day has also spearheaded efforts to redevelop numerous city-owned parking lots in the Downtown area with apartments, as well as retail, office and restaurant spaces. One large property next to the state office building is slated for a new hotel and conference center.
The Mayor was responsible for creating a village for the city’s homeless population made up of 25 tiny homes placed on city land on Anne Street.
Since his election in 2015, his ambitious agenda has included creating community centers on Truitt and Newton streets, rebuilding the Riverwalk and adding an amphitheater, making improvements to long-neglected Fitzwater Street and overseeing the completion of the Main Street revitalization plan.
“In the closing days of my time at the helm of the city, we recognized that we were in the midst of a worsening housing crisis,” Day said in his address Tuesday. “We met the crisis head on by creating the groundbreaking ‘Here Is Home’ legislation.
“This effort to make more houses available for more people at a scale beyond anything that our city has ever seen – built upon the housing work we had already committed to,” Day said. “Remember that we built the city’s Housing and Community Development Department from the ground up. And we led the nation as America’s smallest city to adopt Housing First and to commit to permanently house the chronically homeless.”
Day extensively praised Heath as a worthy successor.
“There is no doubt that the man to carry the torch as I step away is Jack Heath,” he said. “There is no person better briefed, more knowledgeable, or more prepared to preside over the operations of the city.
“He has been a CEO in the business world, a CEO in the nonprofit world, a tireless advocate for those with disabilities, an engaged neighborhood representative, a volunteer firefighter and your City Council President for the last eight years,” Day said.
In his own remarks, Heath listed many of Day’s most notable accomplishments and declared he wanted his own leadership to follow a similar path.
“We have changed the culture (of city government) as demanded by this man,” Heath said, pointing to Day. “And we have accomplished what we’ve accomplished because we work together. And it’s going to change. If we did not have the department heads that we have, and if we did not have the council that we have, I would not have accepted this position.”
He added: “You can expect us to keep the vision going.”
Ironically, Day and Heath first encountered each other politically in January 2013, when each man challenged then-Councilwoman Deborah Campbell. Heath finished third in the election primary, with Day ultimately beating Campbell in the general election.
“He and I simultaneously began our course in Salisbury politics as opponents,” Day recalled Tuesday night. “Jack and I each saw the dysfunction in city government, the behavior and rhetoric, as antithetical to all we know Salisbury could be and government should be.
“It was not my – nor his – immediate objective to beat one another, rather it was our objective to eliminate petty and distracting discord from Salisbury politics,” Day said.
Later, when Day was elected Mayor, the then-council selected Heath to fill Day’s unexpired council term, with Heath winning full election in 2015.
Day also told the crowd that he plans to commute from Salisbury to his western shore job and will remain a fixture in the city.
“As I rise to serve in Gov. Moore’s cabinet, I also step into the ranks of city resident. I won’t be leaving you, Salisbury,” he said. “I will still pay my taxes here, fill my gas tank and my belly here, raise my children here, and have my heart here.”