Posted: April 19, 2006


Let a thousand favors bloom 

State Rep. Hazel D. Plant got into politics through the back door, but she went upscale Tuesday evening with high-powered political escorts, a doorman and a grand lobby at her command -- all at a campaign fund-raiser that also included a visit from the Rev. Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton, the onetime presidential candidate returning a favor she gave him when he needed it most.

Hazel Plant had arrived.

A Wilmington Democrat, she stood trim and contented-looking and in the pink -- literally, in a bright sunrise-pink jacket and dark slacks and pink shoes -- in the spacious entryway of the Residences at Rodney Square, where about 100 well-wishers paid $100 for a ticket to attend and to catch a glimpse of  Sharpton.

It was a testament to how far both Plant and Sharpton had come.

Although the swank high-rise at Rodney Square is in Plant's district, it also contains some of the city's more downtrodden neighborhoods on the East Side, and for years Plant took care of it not as a state legislator but quietly assisting her late husband Al O. Plant Sr., a loud and rumbling representative who served from 1974 until 2000, except for a one-term defeat in 1992.

Hazel Plant won A.O.'s seat in a special election on a miserable day in January 2001, survived a reapportionment gauntlet in which she was thrown into a district with another incumbent and barely beat him, and then beat him decisively in a rematch in 2004.

With that, she established herself, and her fund-raiser showed that the state Democratic Party recognized it. "She has proven to be a real leader," said House Minority Leader Robert F. Gilligan. "I'll never forget that first election. I've worked in a lot of campaigns in my life, but I'd never worked one in the snow."

Along the way Plant endorsed Sharpton as he ran for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. It was the sort of backing he needed as his national image evolved from tub-thumping defender of Tawanna Brawley to an artful commentator. (He recently asked how the Bush administration expected to track down Osama bin Laden when it could not find a hurricane in New Orleans.)

Plant and Sharpton both benefited when he became the only presidential candidate besides John F. Kerry to pick up a delegate in Delaware. Sharpton finished a distant sixth in the primary here, but under the complex formula for awarding delegates, he was entitled to one on the strength of his Wilmington vote.

The delegate slot went to former City Councilman Norman M. Oliver, who was Sharpton's main man in Delaware and probably Plant's most loyal political ally. He was the master of ceremonies at her fund raiser.

The event attracted all sorts of Democratic eminences, and the speakers included not only Gilligan but Mayor James M. Baker, New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons, state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Delaware AFL-CIO President Samuel E. Lathem.

It also brought in a notable Republican or two, including Robert G. Elder, a Wilmington banker who was one of the Swift Boat Republicans for Truth, and the Rev. Christopher A. Bullock, a distant cousin of Plant's.

Wilmington is so Democratic that legislative races customarily are decided in the party primary, and the display of political muscle was designed to scare off any Democrat with thoughts of running against Plant.

"I don't think that there's any question about who's going to win the election," Baker said.

Sharpton, who was making a special trip from New York to attend, got there late, delayed by a television session that ran long. The crowd had dwindled, drawn off by other meetings and responsibilities, but it did not detract from the considerable political weight of Sharpton's commitment to Plant.

"I'm here for her, and I'll be here if she needs me," Sharpton said.

Plant, as usual, did not say much herself, but it did not matter, not with all of those others talking. Besides, A.O. Plant in his oratorical lifetime put enough into the word bank to take care of whatever she needed.

Hazel Plant said simply, "This is an awesome fund raiser."

It was, too.

Like father, like son, like mother, like daughter

A political generation ago, U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. latched onto a campaign manager he could count on -- Valerie Biden Owens, his younger sister. As a matter of fact, Owens did it so well that what began out of family loyalty turned into a profession when she was recruited to join the political consulting firm of Joe Slade White & Co.

The combination has sustained Biden, a Democrat, through 33 years in the Senate and a run or two for the presidential nomination. As his son Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III makes his first run for office as the Democratic candidate for attorney general against Republican Ferris W. Wharton, he is following the model.

Joe Biden's son has asked Valerie Owens' daughter to run his campaign. Missy Owens, a 29-year-old lawyer whose full name is Valerie James Owens, is keeping the political reins all in the family for her 37-year-old cousin.

"We Biden men know it's the Biden women who really run the show," Beau Biden said.