Posted: April 3, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Delaware Democrats on Saturday elected an establishment slate of delegates, heavy on elected officials and members of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's administration, to send to their party's national nominating convention this summer in Boston.

This was not a surprise. The reason that seasoned politicians got that way is they know how to count votes.

The delegation was selected in Dover during a surprisingly collegial convention, considering what was at stake. Because size matters, Delaware is allotted only 23 out of 4,325 national delegates, and seven of them are automatic super-delegates like Gov. Minner and U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, guaranteed a seat because of their positions.

It meant there were only 16 openings for some of the most coveted credentials in politics -- as participants in a great assembly that may not have much to say about the nomination anymore but still showcases the party and becomes for four days the center of the political universe. Besides, it is fun.

"People ask me, why do we go through this?" said Richard H. Bayard, the state party chairman. "Delegate positions are scarce. They are a badge of honor, and they are difficult to obtain."

There was relief and excitement for those who did. After the Sussex County caucus voted to send Lee Ann Walling to Boston, she walked around the Dover Sheraton Inn & Conference Center collecting hugs as she repeated, "I'm a delegate!"

Democracy is not cheap. Delegate expenses are expected to run about $2,000.

The convention opened with a video of John F. Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who has the presidential nomination clinched, and a lineup of speakers emphatic about driving George W. Bush and the Republicans out of the White House.

State Treasurer Jack A. Markell, for example, bashed Bush by quoting a college professor who called the president's economic policy a mantra of "cut taxes, raise spending and screw the future."

Markell also predicted a change in foreign policy that played to the hometown crowd. "Perhaps working with Secretary of State Joe Biden, he is going to help our country join the community of nations," he said.

Then the convention went to work to allocate delegates, based on the results of Delaware's presidential primary on Feb. 3. It had to select 14 delegates for Kerry, one delegate for Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton and one delegate unpledged to any candidate. It also had to fashion a delegation based on gender equity, diversity and that old Delaware stand-by of geography -- upstate, downstate and the city of Wilmington.

The Wilmington caucus voted for Councilman Norman M. Oliver, who ran Sharpton's state campaign, as Delaware's lone Sharpton delegate and gave its other delegate slot to Marilyn J. Doto, a city Democratic vice chair.

The New Castle County caucus elected four delegates: James F. Hussey Jr., the party's state vice chairman; Emily Falcon, a University of Delaware graduate student who is a legislative fellow; Judith A. O'Brien, who works in Minner's Wilmington office; and state Rep. John J. Viola.

The Kent County caucus selected state Sen. Nancy W. Cook and Labor Secretary Harold E. Stafford.

The Sussex County caucus voted for Blaine J. Breeding of the Young Democrats and Walling, who works in the Delaware Economic Development Office.

Once those 10 delegates were selected, they voted to fill the six remaining slots. Wilmington Council President Theodore Blunt became the unpledged delegate. The other openings went to: state Sen. Patricia M. Blevins; Margaret A. Conner, who works on Minner's staff; Chipman L. Flowers Jr., a Wilmington lawyer; state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry; and Lawrence Smith, who was the community affairs director for former Wilmington Mayor Daniel S. Frawley.

The automatic super-delegates are: Minner, Biden, Carper, Bayard, state Vice Chairwoman Leah W. Betts, National Committeeman Bert A. DiClemente and National Committeewoman Karen Valentine.

Bayard pronounced the four-hour convention a success. "Democracy is never pretty or fast, but it comes together," he said. "We've got a delegation that's going to represent Delaware just fine."