Posted: May 9, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

For once, a sponsor got revenge on the Gridiron.

It was live, Saturday night, at the First State Gridiron Dinner & Show, the 14th annual roast at the Bank One Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, a mainstay on the calendar for Delaware's political and business elite.

The playful troupe behind the entertainment loves to "thank" the corporate sponsors paying $4,000 a table by projecting their names on oversized screens and coining slogans for them, as in MBNA -- if you think our TV commercials stink, you ought to see our quarterly earnings.

Delmarva Power was a sponsor. Moments after the show began, the electricity blew, leaving a record attendance of more than 500 people fidgeting by the dim emergency lighting and tiny, decorative candles on the tables.

All of the South Madison Street grid was out for about 20 minutes, the failure apparently triggered by utility work in the area. It was a ghastly gut-check for the organizers, because the show could not go on without current.

Turnabout was fair play. A sponsor finally got to impose its own slogan. Delmarva Power -- we put the Grid in Gridiron, and don't you forget it!

If the show began with an unexpected blackout, it ended with an unexpected breakout. It came after the final chorus of the troupe's version of "Be Our Guest": You were best, as our guests/Now go home and get undressed.

A curvaceous ringer in the cast -- none of the organizers could remember her name, if they ever knew it -- shed half her costume for a full-frontal flash of cleavage.

It was not exactly Janet Jackson -- since it was more of a wardrobe reduction -- but it probably was the bawdiest Gridiron act since the Clinton years, when there was a takeoff on "Evita": Don't cry for me, Mr. President/ I haven't seen your Washington Monument.

In between the bulbs going out in the beginning and the bulbs coming on at the end, there were the usual skits and songs recounting the political outrages of the year.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the two-term Democrat, put up the putdowns on her own administration.

"I read a good joke the other day," she said. "A cop walks into a bar and starts telling dirty limericks. Oh wait. I'm sorry, that's one of my personnel files."

Minner tried again. "OK, here's another joke, Two old politicians are sitting on the beach. One says, 'What do you want to do today?' The other one says, 'I don't know, what do you want to do today?' The first old guy says, 'I don't know. Want to be Cabinet secretaries?'

"Wait a second. That's another one of my personnel files."

Generally the politicians got off easy at this Gridiron. For example, there was little about Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A. Markell and the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial nomination except for a mocked-up photo. It showed bikini-clad Carney and Markell settling the outcome in a blue Jell-o wrestling pit.

In fantasy as in fact, New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons had the last word on the administration he sacked in the Democratic primary last year. Coons came onstage as "Coonac the Magnificent," patting a gold turban into place as he divined the contents inside sealed envelopes given to him by Michael P. Kelly, a Wilmington lawyer and Gridiron veteran.

As Coons held one of the envelopes to his forehead, he said mysteriously, "1941 . . . 2001 . . . 2028."

Kelly opened the envelope and read, "Name two movies and the next time you'll hear from Sherry Freebery."

There was a video of state Rep. William A. Oberle Jr., the Republican sponsor of the gay anti-discrimination bill, setting the record -- well, straight.

"Bill Oberle is not a homosexual," he said. Then the camera panned to show Oberle sitting beside state Rep. Wayne A. Smith, the House Republican majority leader who has fought Oberle on the bill, and the Gridiron crowd cracked up as Oberle said to Smith, "How'd I do, sweetheart?"

The congressional delegation starred in another video. It showed U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper and U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle at a deserted Wilmington train station, the Democratic and Republican twosome shielding their eyes as they stared down a track as empty as the White House's Amtrak budget.

They wondered how they would get to Washington, only to notice that U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. had floated off without them -- as usual. A caricature of  Delaware's senior Democrat flew overhead in a balloon with a sticker on it: Biden for president.

The Gridiron would not be the Gridiron without an appearance from J. Brian Murphy, a Wilmington economic development consultant, in drag. This year he was Jennifer Willbanks, the runaway bride, splendid in a wedding dress, looking pregnant.

As Murphy's flight took him at a bumbling trot past the table of Theodore Blunt, the City Council's Democratic president, the runaway bride patted her belly and crooned, "It's Ted's."

The last word always goes to the governor, and Minner did it with a video she called, "Delaware Housewives." It showed her playing cards at Woodburn with Nancy W. Cook and Margaret Rose Henry, a couple of Democratic state senators, and M. Jane Brady, the Republican attorney general.

They were telling secrets about themselves. Cook, for example, confessed that she could get state Rep. Joseph G. DiPinto, her co-chair on the Joint Finance Committee, to agree to anything in the budget because he once saw her body naked.

"Any time I want something, I threaten to show it to him again," Cook said.

Minner confessed she had a crush on someone. She resisted telling the Delaware housewives who it was, but then he opened the door -- looking geeky, wearing glasses, spouting conservative Republican orthodoxy.

Wayne Smith.

The Gridiron crowd roared. Wayne Smith as a love interest for Oberle and the governor, all in one night. Wayne Smith showing a sense of humor. Who knew?