Posted: Feb. 26, 2003
EVEN INSURANCE COMMISSIONER
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Look no further than the next election for
insurance commissioner for evidence that there is no longer any such
thing as an off-year in politics.
Here in the chill of February 2003, with more
than 20 months to go before the 2004 election, the campaign already
is heating up for a statewide office that is often little more than
Insurance Commissioner Donna Lee Williams, a
Republican first elected in 1992, will be up for a fourth term next
year. Delaware Democrats already have her targeted, and as a matter
of fact, some Delaware Republicans do, too. Williams could face a
primary -- a rare hurdle for a statewide incumbent.
Williams, a lawyer from Dover, has been wading
through a number of dense, arcane issues, such as medical
malpractice insurance and new ownership for Blue Cross Blue Shield
Now it appears she will have to add politics
to her list of priorities earlier than planned -- this for an office
that usually is overlooked, not only because of its narrow and
technical nature, but also because it is overshadowed on the
statewide ballot every four years by the showcase races for
president and governor.
"I do intend to run. I have been working
extremely hard for the citizens of Delaware. They have elected me
three times, and I hope to continue serving," Williams said.
The Democrats already appear to have a
candidate in Matthew P. Denn, currently the legal counsel to Gov.
Ruth Ann Minner, a first-term Democrat who also will be on the
"I'm seriously considering it, and I'm in the
process of talking to people about it," Denn said.
State Democratic Chairman Richard H. Bayard
said Denn will make a fine candidate and appears to have the field
to himself, although you never know. "Anything's possible in the
Democratic Party," Bayard said.
The Democrats intend to focus on the insurance
commissioner's race, building on their record of recent years
against Republican statewide officeholders, Bayard said. In the last
three election cycles, Republican Treasurer Janet C. Rzewnicki lost
to Democrat Jack A. Markell in 1998, Republican Sen. William V. Roth
Jr. lost to Democratic Gov. Thomas R. Carper in 2000, and Republican
Attorney General M. Jane Brady barely held off Democrat Carl Schnee
"The insurance commissioner's race is one we
definitely want. We got Rzewnicki and Roth and almost Brady, and now
we're aiming for Donna Lee Williams," Bayard said.
The Democrats may have to get in line,
however. There are Republicans unhappy with Williams, too.
The intramural displeasure does not turn on
Williams' performance, but on resentment toward her chief of staff,
Jacqueline F. Brown. She is a former party official who is said to
have helped out the campaign of Bethany A. Hall-Long, a newly
elected Democratic state representative who is Brown's neighbor in a
development near Middletown.
Brown denies it. "I didn't work for anyone in
that race," she said.
Still, the belief persists. "It's been
commonly discussed that at least one member of Donna Lee's staff has
been at a minimum not supporting a Republican and at a maximum
helping a Democrat," said David A. Jones, the New Castle County
The name of Jeffrey E. Cragg, a Brandywine
Hundred businessman with insurance interests, is circulating as a
potential Republican opponent for Williams. Cragg is the treasurer
for the New Castle County Republicans and was a candidate in a
three-way legislative primary in 2000. His father is Ernest E. Cragg,
the Brandywine Region Republican chairman.
Jeff Cragg currently is embroiled in another
race, running for the New Castle County Republican chairmanship to
replace Jones, whose two-year term expires next month. Cragg faces
Thomas S. Ross, a mortgage company executive from Wilmington,
although the two are meeting this week and may try to work something
Cragg says it is too early to discuss the
insurance commissioner's race, but he has heard the rumblings
against Williams and does not believe it would be incompatible to be
a county chairman and a candidate. "Somebody could do both," he
Meanwhile, Williams intends to stand by Brown
and to stand for re-election, regardless.
"Jackie does an incredible job. I wish I had
nothing better to do than to start gossip. I am so busy doing my
job," Williams said. "I want people to vote for me because they have
confidence in me, not because I'm the lesser of two evils."
Twenty months out and counting, the campaign
season is clearly here.
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