Posted: Sept. 8, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A plain manila envelope going to New Castle County Democrats is the political equivalent of deadly force, delivered to doors from Sherry L. Freebery, who learned years ago as a police cadet that if you have to shoot, you shoot to kill.

With the primary election set for Saturday, Freebery is three days away from finding out whether her career in county government is dead or alive, after a 30-year ascent that took her from police officer to police chief to chief administrative officer and now to a gory showdown for the Democratic nomination for county executive.

Freebery is trying to accomplish what widely is believed to be impossible in Delaware -- which is to win an election while under indictment, particularly on charges of public corruption.

With her back to the wall, she has let loose with manila envelopes stuffed with four campaign brochures, not to mention nail files and candy, in a fight-to-the-finish with Christopher A. Coons, the County Council president who is her prime rival for the nomination.

Skeptics say voters will file their nails and eat the candy but throw the political literature away. If they do, they will miss some of the most toxic blasts ever to appear in glossy, full color in a campaign.

It comes from someone who really did kill a man during a gunfight with a shot to the head as a police officer on the street in 1975.

Freebery, who says she wrote the pamphlets herself, characterizes Coons as a trust-fund boy who did drugs.

She wastes virtually no ink on Richard J. Korn, the third Democrat in the field, a New York transplant whose role in this race appears to be playing a Greek chorus chirping "corruption! corruption!" in the background.

She also has nothing to say about Christopher J. Castagno, the Republican candidate, whom she dismissed in an interview as a "non-entity," even as the Republicans believe the conditions are ripe for them to elect a county executive for the first time in 20 years.

This is between Freebery and Coons. She protects her flanks with a broadside against the indictment with a one-page handout that blares in red, "Have you ever been falsely accused of something you didn't do?" and with references to her decorated police career and the Gordon administration's record of surpluses, land-use management and more police, parks and libraries.

A four-page brochures compares Freebery and Coons. She says of him: "The first and only job that Chris Coons has ever worked began in 1996, as a full-time lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for his family's big business. Coons attended posh ivy-league schools until he was 30 years old. He admits with a laugh to his illegal dug use while he was in school. . . . He also enjoys his own personal trust fund, which allows him the privilege to never need to work in his life."

She says of herself: "Sherry Freebery began working summers at age 14 and has worked every year of her life since. . . . While Coons was using illegal drugs at his ivy-league schools, Sherry Freebery was protecting the citizens of New Castle County as a police officer, working nights, shift work and holidays. Sherry returned to school as a working mother and earned her law degree at night, while commanding the serial rape task force."

Coons did go to Amherst College, Yale Law School and Yale Divinity School, graduating when he was 29, and worked as counsel at W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., the Newark-based science company where his stepfather is the chairman and his mother is an executive -- not exactly the stuff of political slurs.

Coons acknowledges a dalliance with marijuana in high school -- "yes, I inhaled" -- and says he is embarrassed by it.

He suggests it does not compare with what Freebery is charged with doing -- racketeering, taking more than $2 million from a friend needing county approval for a golf course, and using county employees during working hours for campaigns. Freebery, who has pleaded innocent, calls the indictment the politically-motivated work of a Republican prosecutor.

"I experimented with drugs while I was in high school, and she's committed crimes while in office," Coons said.

Freebery's manila envelopes are targeted to Democratic-rich locations, like Wilmington and New Castle, she said. While the literature drop began over the Labor Day weekend, giving Coons a week to respond before the primary, he does not plan to bother.

"I'm not issuing some counter piece denouncing hers as lies, because it doesn't deserve it," Coons said.

Freebery ends one of her brochures with a plea to the voters for support. 'This political season in New Castle County has become a full-contact, bloody sport. Right now it is two men against one woman in the fight to become the next county executive," it says. "Luckily, Sherry Freebery is used to such odds."

Below the words, there is the famous painting by Norman Rockwell, showing a girl seated on a bench outside the principal's office, her pigtails askew and her eye blackened, obviously from a recent fight, but beaming with a pleased-as-punch smile. The caption read, "Nothing beats a positive attitude."

The painting and the manila envelopes are vintage Freebery. If she goes down, it is clear she does not plan to go alone.