Posted: Feb. 24, 2004
REPUBLICANS REVIVE IN NEW
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The Republicans smell blood in New Castle
County, Democratic blood, so there they were, packing into the
historic courthouse in old New Castle on Tuesday to watch
Christopher J. Castagno declare his candidacy for county executive.
They did a decent job of getting out a crowd
-- more than 100 people, counting about 25 children from the St.
Peter's Catholic Church school, where Castagno's twin daughters went
-- particularly considering how rusty the party was.
In the last three elections for county
executive, going back to 1992, the Republicans fielded a token
candidate once in 1996 and nobody at all twice.
Sure, the registration leans against them --
of the 339,390 voters in Delaware's most populous county, they are
split 45 percent Democratic, 32 percent Republican and 23 percent
others -- but the Republicans simply gave up.
One reason was that so many of their own were
high on Thomas P. Gordon, the Democratic county executive who has
reached the two-term limit in office. After giving him a free ride,
the Republicans without a shred of embarrassment are hungry to feed
on the gooey affairs of the county government.
Gordon touts his record of no tax increases, a
budget surplus, land use reform and more parks, libraries and
police, but his critics point to the corollary damage of an
unconsummated federal investigation with its inferences of
corruption and also fierce governmental infighting, like some kind
of political hand-to-hand combat.
The infighting has created a Democratic
primary between Sherry L. Freebery, who is Gordon's comrade in arms,
and County Council President Christopher A. Coons, who intends to
campaign on a platform of experience and ethics.
Love Gordon or loathe him, the county has been
a spectacle, and Delaware voters are known for their uneasiness with
unseemliness. Just ask Jack A. Markell. The Democratic state
treasurer was elected in 1998 as a touch-of-springtime contrast to
Janet C. Rzewnicki, a Republican accused of spreading allegations of
domestic violence involving Thomas R. Carper, the Democratic
governor turned U.S. senator.
The Republicans would not mind seeing Freebery
and Coons carve each other up while they position Castagno to ride
to the county's rescue. In his announcement speech, Castagno used
the expression "fresh start" seven times -- as in, "it's time for a
fresh start in New Castle County government" -- plus one "fresh and
clean start," as well as two posters proclaiming, "A Fresh Start for
New Castle County."
Putting the county high jinks aside, the
Republicans like what they see in Castagno -- a poised international
business consultant, president of the New Castle City Council, a
graduate of Salesianum School and the University of Delaware, and a
former executive at W.L. Gore & Associates, which also happens to be
Coons' family firm. Only in Delaware.
U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, who is not known
for putting himself on the line for other Republicans, is pushing
hard for Castagno and introduced him at the announcement.
"I do not choose sides early on," Castle said,
"but early on I recognized we had an exceptional candidate."
Inside the courthouse, there is a pair of
tipstaves -- long wooden staffs topped with small wooden triangles,
painted white on one side and red on the other. During criminal
trials in colonial times, the white sides faced out when the verdict
was "innocent," while the red sides were turned outward for
With the kind of campaign the Republicans are
running, it was a cinch the white sides would be facing out, and
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