Posted: Dec. 13, 2011
NOT FROM HERE
By Celia Cohen
Something is conspicuous in its presence in the background of the state senators from Sussex County. They are all from there.
Gary Simpson, the Republican minority leader? Born in Milford, lives there now. Joe Booth, the Georgetown Republican, and Bob Venables, the Laurel Democrat? Both born in Sussex. George Howard Bunting, the Bethany Beach Democrat, actually was born across the Maryland line in a Salisbury hospital, but from then on, his boyhood was all Frankford and Dagsboro.
Sorry, Bunting in no way counts as an undocumented immigrant to Sussex. Nor can he be considered a Maryland anchor baby.
Because of population growth, Sussex County is getting itself a new state Senate district in time for the 2012 election, and it looks like the southernmost of Delaware's three counties is in for something else new, too.
Not one of the candidates who has declared an interest in running is from Sussex.
It might be all right in other parts of the state, like Wilmington where Margaret Rose Henry, the Democratic majority whip, is originally from Louisiana, or even just north of Sussex in Kent County where Colin Bonini, a Republican from the Dover area, relocated from California, but Sussex?
Sussex is a place where Ken McDowell, the chief election official there, once opened a session of the Board of Canvass, as it sat to certify the vote, by saying, "No need to introduce anyone. All our families have been here for 300 years."
Sussex is a place with such a fierce identity that Delaware is sometimes said to have three political parties. Democrats, Republicans and Sussex County. It is not always taken as a joke.
Never mind. Strange but true, it could be the right time and the right place for an "outsider."
After all, the reason Sussex is getting another senator is a lot of people not from there have moved there. The new 6th Senate District on the eastern side of the county takes in Milton, Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, a lot of prime resort areas.
"There are communities that weren't even in existence 10 years ago. A lot of people have moved here from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to retire. They're new, so someone who is not native Sussex might have a chance to win," said John Brady, a lawyer who was elected in years past to a couple of county row offices.
Brady could be considered part of the transition. As a Lewes resident these days, Brady got himself elected countywide even though he was an upstater from Wilmington until about 20 years ago. (Actually, Brady has shown even more flexibility than that. He was elected as a Republican, but after switching parties, he is currently running for county clerk of the peace as a Democrat.)
"It is a vacation area. People like it so much, they decide to stay," said Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Democrat who is the majority leader in the state House of Representatives.
Ready or not, Sussex County can play a game of who-came-the-farthest with the candidates for its new Senate seat.
On the Democratic side, there is Andy Staton, born 39 years ago on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Staton, who is in real estate, grew up vacationing in Rehoboth and Bethany and moved to Rehoboth full time in 2003. He is a local representative district chair for the Democrats and also was Schwartzkopf's campaign manager.
On the Republican side, there is a primary brewing between Ernie Lopez and Glen Urquhart.
Lopez, who is 35, was living upstate in Newark by the time he was a toddler, after his family left Puerto Rico. His first political campaign was for president of the New Castle County Council in 2004. He works for the University of Delaware, which transferred him from the main campus in Newark to Sussex County in 2006. His home is in Lewes.
Maybe the next best thing to being a Sussex native is marrying someone from there. Lopez's wife Janis went to Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes.
Urquhart was originally from Pittsburgh, 63 years ago, but by the 1960s he was in northern Virginia, where he made his way into real estate development and conservative politics. He has been in Rehoboth since 1999.
Urquhart was the Republican congressional candidate in 2010. He spent the last several months as the Sussex Republican chair but resigned Monday after getting into the Senate race.
Before the new district decides what to make of the candidates, it might have to decide what to make of itself.
"This is a district without much roots. It's an emerging district with a lot of new voters," said Bill Lee, the retired judge who ran for governor and also used to chair the Sussex Republicans.
Lee, who lives in Rehoboth in the new district, is one of those Sussex Countians whose family goes back 300 years, although much to his everlasting regret, he actually was born in Philadelphia. His father was a doctor who wanted the baby delivered by a medical school professor there.
"It's something I never forgave him for," Lee once said.
In the new Sussex County, people are probably wondering, forgive his father for what?