Posted: Nov. 13, 2005; updated: Nov. 14, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Rep. Tina Fallon, a Seaford Republican whose legislative longevity has made her as much a symbol of the town as nylon, is calling it a career after 14 terms.

With her trademark upbeat briskness, Fallon brought about 50 family members, friends and political supporters to a 15-minute announcement ceremony Monday afternoon at the Seaford Town Hall to say she would retire from the state House of Representatives, where she has served since 1978, rather than seek a new two-year term in 2006.

"I want you to lend me your ears,” Fallon said. “I want to announce something big in my life. I will not seek re-election. Are you shocked? You didn’t clap – that’s great.”

At 88, Fallon is the oldest legislator in Dover -- a distinction that would pass to state Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat who is 80, unless he decides to call it quits next year, too. Despite some speculation about Vaughn, it appears more likely that rumors of his retirement have been greatly exaggerated, more like wishful thinking by Republicans who believe they would have a shot at winning his seat if he were out of the way.

Fallon also is fourth in seniority in the House, behind Minority Leader Robert F. Gilligan, a Democrat first elected in 1972, and Reps. William A. Oberle Jr. and Roger P. Roy, Republicans first elected in 1976.

A retired teacher, Fallon is a Seaford icon, known for her pep and for knowing a great swath of the local population. Her age and activity have been enduring sources of marvel and conversation in Legislative Hall.

Fallon was re-elected handily in 2004 from the 39th Representative District with 58 percent of the vote, but not before throwing a scare into the Republicans when she was hospitalized for what turned out to be the flu while attending a legislative conference in Alaska.

Her retirement has been anticipated by both parties, and Fallon’s announcement included her introduction of the Republican candidate she hopes will succeed her -- Seaford Mayor Daniel B. Short. He had a rehearsal for the campaign in 2004 by challenging state Sen. Robert L. Venables Sr., a Laurel Democrat, and polling 40 percent of the vote.

“This young man is doing a great job right now,” Fallon said of the 55-year-old mayor. “Yes, he was even one of my students.”

The Democrats have yet to settle on a candidate. Thomas J. Chapman, a teacher who lost to Fallon last time, has said he would like to run again, but the party also may look elsewhere.

Whatever the match-up, the race is expected to be hotly contested in a campaign season in which the House is projected as a key battleground. The Republicans control the 41-member chamber 25-15 with one independent, making it a rare stronghold for the party in a state that is leaning increasingly Democratic.

An open seat is typically the best opportunity for a district to change hands, and state Democratic Chair John D. Daniello says his party would like this one to be among the "Six in '06" -- the Democrats' goal of picking up six seats to deliver them the House majority.

Still, the Republicans have a slight registration edge in the 39th district in a county where seven of the eight representatives are Republican, and the Republicans are intent on keeping it that way.

"Dan [Short] ran a very good race against a virtually unbeatable opponent for the Senate. I feel very good about holding that seat," said William Swain Lee, the Sussex County Republican chair.

Short told the crowd at the announcement he did not expect the race to be easy but believed Fallon’s endorsement would be a significant asset. He said he would not seek a new term as mayor in March to concentrate on the legislative race.

Making the most of his status as Fallon’s designated heir, Short promised there would be a lavish retirement celebration for her sometime early next year. With that, he gave his listeners the opportunity they had been waiting for.

Finally! They stood and clapped for Fallon.