Posted: Dec. 13, 2012
THE PINK SLIP FROM HELL
By Celia Cohen
Whatever the opposite of nepotism is, it just happened in the state House of Representatives, and it was not pretty.
Nepotism is hiring when there were considerations because of family. This was firing when there were ramifications because of family.
The pink slip came last week, right before Pearl Harbor Day, a dismissal that will live in infamy.
It went to Vikki Bandy, who worked earlier this year as a part-time legislative aide. Bandy is a never-blink-first Democratic political operative, an inseparable friend and campaign manager of Karen Peterson, the Democratic senator from Stanton.
Bandy had a nothing job, really, in bill preparation, more valuable for the insider view of Legislative Hall it provided than for the compensation, which was $90 a day for the 45 days the Delaware General Assembly was in session during 2012.
Bandy will not be back when the legislature returns to Dover in January. She was let go after Pete Schwartzkopf, the speaker-apparent who spent the last four years as the majority leader, heard she bad-mouthed him about the way Brad Bennett was treated.
Bennett was the Democratic representative who picked up a second drunken-driving conviction last year and was given the message, loud and clear, he ought to make like an illegal immigrant and self-deport from politics by not running for re-election. Andria Bennett, his wife, bulled her way through a primary and the general election to become the new representative from Dover.
"It was not a very hard decision," Schwartzkopf said. "Do I bring somebody back who vocally and vehemently disagreed with leadership or somebody who will just do the job?"
The pink slip for Bandy came in the form of a certified letter. It was signed by John Viola, the incoming majority whip, who also happens to be the father of Andria Bennett and the father-in-law of Brad Bennett, so here he was, axing Bandy for sticking up for his own family.
This, from the party of Joe Biden? More than once, the vice president has told a story from his days as a schoolboy here. He was assigned to the safety patrol, and he was very proud of it. One day his sister Valerie acted up on the school bus, and Joe told their father he was going to have to turn her in. Joe Sr. recoiled and imparted advice for the ages, namely, you turn in your badge, not your sister!
Just to complete the circle, before Andria Bennett became a legislator, she was a legislative aide for Peterson in the Senate. Nothing incestuous about Delaware politics, no sirreee.
Viola gets it. "It's my job to sign the letter, as I was informed. It doesn't mean I was part of the decision-making process," he said. "I wasn't real happy about it."
Viola also had to sign a termination letter for Cathy Gregory, another legislative aide who was let go. It was another case of heartburn. Gregory was Andria Bennett's campaign manager.
Peterson and Schwartzkopf had it out one day last week, when Legislative Hall was humming as the Senate met in a special session to consider judicial appointments.
Afterwards, Schwartzkopf said he had not realized how much Bandy did for the Democratic Party -- chairing her local representative district committee and managing the campaign of Kim Williams, who won the race to replace Bob Gilligan, the recently retired speaker -- and conceded her dismissal was mishandled.
Schwartzkopf called Bandy and offered her the job back, but she decided she would rather not.
There has been much speculation among the Legislative Hall regulars about how Schwartzkopf would be as the speaker, running an unruly place that stokes itself on the adrenaline rush of gossip, deal-making, drama, ego and intrigue, when he comes out of the state police, a former troop captain accustomed to a chain a command. This episode certainly will not quiet the talk.
"This is a classic case of ready-fire-aim," Peterson said.