Posted: April 2, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Last of the Old School was re-elected chairman when the New Castle County Democrats caucused Saturday.

John D. Daniello, who has been around so long he was elected to the county government when it was run by commissioners, not an executive and council, won himself another four years as the chief of the county party he took over in 2000.

Daniello was unopposed. Natch.

When you are Old School, you rule. Not only was Daniello unopposed, the slate of officers he wanted with him was unopposed, and he came out the undisputed winner of a minor dustup in a vote over a rule change. It was vintage Daniello.

It was all over in about half an hour, and everybody got to go home early from the Carpenters Union Hall near Old New Castle, where about 100 Democrats, including County Executive Christopher A. Coons, showed up, probably because it was easier to deal with nasty weather than to explain to Daniello why they had not.

Daniello is the type of guy who can ask, as he did Saturday, "Can we all stand for the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, please?" and make it sound like a threat. Do not cross him when he has a gavel in his hand.

Daniello is where he is because he knows who his friends are, he can count votes, and he delivers.

Daniello helped to install Coons, wiping away the stain of the Gordon-Freebery administration, and to engineer a County Council that is 11-2 Democratic. In addition, the New Castle County Democrats are the reason the party controls six of the nine statewide offices, including the governor and both U.S. senators. The two lower counties mostly prefer Republicans these days.

"He loves it. John is the consummate good politician, and he's done a helluva job," said John D. Modica, who has been through the political wars with Daniello and was a county chairman himself in the 1970s. "John's a good man, but he can bust 'em."

Beneath the crustiness, Daniello knows how to keep happy the people who need to be kept happy. His fellow officers bring a lot of voices -- women and minority -- to the table as well as ties to key officeholders.

Vice Chairman James F. Paoli is close to Coons. Vice Chairwoman Margie Conner does the scheduling for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. Treasurer James "J.J." Johnson is a newly-elected state representative. Secretary Rebecca H. Young is the leader of a fledgling movement of Howard Dean-type Democrats interested in making its mark.

Daniello himself takes care of the unions, and the unions take care of him. It has been that way since he broke into politics in the 1960s, one of the last to be elected a Levy Court commissioner, serving on a three-member panel that ran New Castle County.

The Levy Court's name came from its power to levy taxes, and it was superseded with the 1966 election by a county executive and council, where Daniello served as a holdover until his six-year term from commissioner to councilman expired in 1971.

It is only fitting that Daniello's name remains synonymous with a more freewheeling day when Democratic state politics foamed with the double cross and the occasional right cross. Say "Shipley-Daniello" to Democrats of a certain age, and their blood still boils.

Daniello got into a scrum for the 1970 congressional nomination with Samuel L. Shipley, later a Democratic state chairman. After some double-dealing and a fistfight between two rival supporters, Daniello won the party's backing at a wild, wild convention, but Shipley forced their feud to a primary. Daniello won again, but there were so many hard feelings that his candidacy was doomed in the general election.

The Republican who went to the Congress was Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont, setting him on his way to the governorship in 1976, and it took 12 years and an up-and-coming Democrat named Thomas R. Carper before the Democrats won the congressional seat again. A lot of Democrats still remember.

All these years later, however, Daniello is still around. Not even a broken hip last year has stopped him. The Old School is tough like that.

If anybody doubted that Daniello was Old School, all it took was a glance at the Old School tie he wore Saturday. It was dark and subtle, but it made its point.

It was decorated with a lot of tiny arrows, and they all read, "One Way."