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City Council President Hanifa Shabazz is revoking her political opponent Ernest "Trippi" Congo's City Council seat after he admitted to a news outlet that he moved out of his district.
Congo is now running for Shabazz's citywide seat but was still serving as councilman for the 2nd District, which covers parts of the city's north side, through the end of the year.
In an interview with WDEL about his campaign on July 23, Congo said he had moved "like two weeks ago" to the 8th District, which includes neighborhoods such as Trolley Square and the Highlands. City law requires council members to "remain a resident" in the district they represent during their terms.
When pressed, Congo said he would not resign from his 2nd District seat but simply move back to that district if residency rules required it.
But Shabazz on Thursday sent a letter to Congo as "formal notification" that his seat was now vacant, and ordered him to return any city property. She cited the city code, which states if a councilman stops living in his district, his seat "shall immediately be forfeited and become vacant."
"Because your failure for a time period of at least two weeks during which you resided outside of your district means that you did not possess a necessary qualification to hold your office, you have by your conduct immediately forfeited and vacated your office as a member of Council," Shabazz wrote.
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Congo said he made an "honest mistake" and plans to move back to the 2nd District "tomorrow" and try to appeal Shabazz's decision.
"I publicly said that I moved," he said. "I wasn't trying to hide anything; I wasn't trying to undermine the system ... I wouldn't sacrifice my seat from half a mile away."
Shabazz was not immediately available for comment.
Congo has represented the 2nd District for 12 years, listing his home address as his family's funeral home at 2317 N. Market St., where there are apartments upstairs.
He used this address to file this year to run for an at-large City Council seat and to re-file to run for Shabazz's position on July 17, as part of a play for seats made by several political opponents of Shabazz and Mayor Mike Purzycki.
Congo confirmed an address in the Highlands, listed in campaign finance records, is his new home. He reiterated that he moved there about two weeks ago.
He said he moved there to provide his children a safe place to play outside and believed it wouldn't violate any rules because he was running for a citywide seat.
State records suggest he may have been tied to that address longer.
On the state's campaign finance records website, Congo is listed as having been the treasurer for the committee supporting his election to the 2nd District since Jan. 20, 2015. In that position, his mailing address is listed as the Highlands house.
"I never listed that address," he said when asked why it showed up in records. "I would like to investigate that. ... I just moved there."
He said when he re-filed to run for City Council president, he asked Elections Department staff which address to use.
"She said put your address where you're a registered voter," he said. "I wasn't trying to be sneaky about it."
It's unclear whether his move – or living at a different address than the one he used to file for election –affects his eligibility to run for City Council president. The only residency requirement for that position is that he live in Wilmington.
Congo said he's lived above the funeral home "most of my life."
He acknowledged longstanding rumors that he had not really lived in the 2nd District and said they were false. He said last year he lived briefly at 23rd and Franklin, which is in the district.
"I've don't know where they came from," he said of the allegations. "I have always lived in the 2nd District. It couldn't be proven. If I was ever followed, they followed me back to 24th and Market."