Posted: Feb. 14, 2003
LINCOLN DAY JINX
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The Sussex County Republicans' Lincoln Day
Dinner on Thursday night was focused on three people -- old Abe
himself and a pair of candidates who would like to be Delaware's
It could have been better for all three.
State Rep. Joseph W. Booth, a Georgetown
Republican who arrived in a pickup truck with his gold legislative
license plate on it, wondered what the 16th president would have
thought if he had come to the dinner and seen the tag bearing the
initials "J.W.B." -- as in John Wilkes Booth.
William Swain Lee, the retired Superior Court
judge running for governor, was doing fine until his emphatic
statement that he hoped the party believed he was the right person
for the job, at which point the lectern fell apart.
It was as theatrical as if old Abe the Rail
Splitter had taken an ax to it himself during a talk given by
someone who really is related to the Lees of Virginia.
As for Michael D. Protack, the airline pilot
who is Lee's rival, he was simply in the wrong county. A Yorklyn
resident from New Castle County, he had the task of speaking to a
gathering in which Bill Lee was introduced as Sussex County's own.
The dinner, sponsored by the Sussex County
Republican Women's Club and the Eastern Sussex Republican Club, drew
about 90 people to the Lamp Post restaurant in Rehoboth Beach.
Coincidentally the Lamp Post was the site for
a monthly meeting of the Superior Court judges, Lee's ex-colleagues.
It was a private session, so it is unknown whether it was lively or
dull, but the happiest judge there seemed to be John E. Babiarz Jr.,
who was telling anyone who would listen that his dog had eaten his
hearing aid and he did not mind.
As is fitting in February of a political
off-year, the Republicans' dinner was somewhat low key. Lee's camp
did its best to keep it that way, even discouraging reporters from
showing up to minimize the perception that Lee, who is regarded as
the front-runner, has any competition for the nomination.
Lee came within 46 votes of it in 2000, losing
the primary election to John M. Burris, and never really stopped
campaigning for another chance in 2004 against Gov. Ruth Ann Minner,
the first-term Democrat who has said she is running again.
Lee already has secured influential backers,
such as former Gov. Pierre S. du Pont and National Committeeman W.
Laird Stabler Jr., and financial commitments. He also has instant
name recognition as the judge who presided at Thomas J. Capano's
In contrast Protack is a political newcomer,
his one foray into statewide politics being an aborted campaign for
the U.S. Senate nomination in 2002.
The two candidates each spoke for about 10
minutes, both keying not on each other, but on Minner as their
Protack, who spoke first, decried the state's
pollution, health care and taxes -- "our tax system is about as
oppressive and regressive as we can get" -- and said Minner was not
up to the job of improving the quality of life here.
"What you get from Gov. Minner is not going to
change. She has no vision, no ideology, just an in-box," Protack
Lee's message was similar. He promised to take
on polluters and a government he considered to be bloated with union
jobs and redundant school administrators.
"We have forgotten that government does not
exist to provide jobs. This is not the Soviet Union," Lee said. "Our
resources have not diminished, only our will and our expectations.
Our budgets go up each year. We don't have a money problem, we have
a government problem."
The crowd came across as Lee's. "He's going to
be the candidate," said Keller Hopkins, the Sussex County Republican
chairman. "Part of my job is to make sure he becomes our next
The most noteworthy political moments of the
dinner involved food.
As Joe Booth, the legislator with the awkward
initials, headed toward the lectern for some short remarks, he
passed the dessert cart laden with sundaes. Booth, a big man, nearly
"I just made the toughest choice of my
political career," he said, "grabbing the microphone or walking past
about 20 bowls of ice cream." He solved it by speaking, then helping
himself to dessert on his return to his table.
Bill Lee showed how politic he could be when
he was asked whether he wanted fish or chicken -- Eastern Sussex or
West? -- for his meal. He said he had no preference. He followed up
by telling a story about a dinner he once had at a Millsboro
steakhouse with a friend.
"You ordered beef because it was Bonanza," he
told his companion. "I ordered chicken because it was Millsboro."
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