Posted: March 11, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Troy A. Brocco and Jonathan J. Pugsley are the executive directors du jour for Delaware's major political parties, Brocco for the Republicans and Pugsley for the Democrats.

Brocco wandered over the river from New Jersey, and Pugsley drifted east from Oregon by way of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Michigan. Both have a couple of campaign seasons in them, Brocco at 32 years old and Pugsley at 30.

The executive directors are typical of the breed of political operatives -- here today, gone tomorrow, looking for that next adrenaline rush of campaign combat, their loyalty rooted in a party but not necessarily in a place.

They took jobs cast aside by others who moved on after the 2002 election. Eric Sutton, although originally from Sussex County, left the state Republican headquarters in Wilmington to become the executive director for the Maryland GOP. Brenda R. Mayrack, who was based in the state Democratic headquarters in Newport, is taking a break from politics, working at a ski resort and snowboarding in Colorado.

Sutton took a victory lap last month, showing up at the Kent County Lincoln Day Dinner in Dover with Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland's Republican governor who was the keynote speaker. Mayrack recently fired a mass e-mail back east, writing contentedly, "Life is good."

While moving on may be the norm, it still seems somehow anomalous in Delaware, where only the native-born dare to claim they're from here, no matter how long the residency or accomplishment on behalf of the state. Bill Frank, the celebrated newspaper columnist who wrote here for more than 60 years, lamented to his dying day that he was born in New York.

Not that Delawareans need not apply for an executive director's job. The state chairmen are as predisposed to hire local as anyone.

J. Everett Moore Jr., the Georgetown lawyer who is the Republican leader, counts four or five generations from both sides of his family in Sussex County. Richard H. Bayard, the Wilmington lawyer who is the Democrats' top official, is from a famous political dynasty that has been in Delaware since 1787 and sent a record five family members to the U.S. Senate.

"It's always everybody's wish to get somebody from Delaware," Bayard said.

The problem is that the Delawareans manage to get the better jobs, Bayard said, citing Mark T. Brainard as an example. Brainard, a politically connected Democrat who has worked for the General Assembly, Delaware Technical & Community College and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, recently signed on as chief of staff for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

Not all the political operatives who land in Delaware leave. Brian Selander, who grew up in New Jersey, worked in politics in his home state, then in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont for former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley's 2000 Democratic presidential campaign, and also in Pennsylvania before hooking on with U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper as the Democrat's communications director.

Selander says he fell under the spell of small-state politics, where everybody seems to know everybody else and it is all right for him to count as one of his best friends C. Kenneth Grant, the state Republicans' communications director.

"I am committed at this point to staying," Selander said. "It's an amazing place. The people are so close to their elected representatives. I've worked in six states, and this is as close as direct democracy comes."

An ultimate outsider-makes-good story belongs to Michael Ratchford, a Republican who is now an executive with Conectiv, the power company.

Ratchford got started in politics in Mississippi, where he had lived since he was 14 when his father, who was with the FBI, was transferred there from Pennsylvania. During one campaign Ratchford met Michael E. Harkins, then a political consultant who has fallen on hard times these days as the exiled executive director of the Delaware River & Bay Authority.

In 1980 Ratchford followed Harkins to Delaware, settling in and rising through the political ranks to take one of the state's dream posts. Ratchford served as the secretary of state in the early 1990s for Gov. Michael N. Castle, the state's lone congressman since 1993.

"It's a great place from a political standpoint," Ratchford said. "There is a great interest in politics and also in making government work. This isn't a place where you can show up and drop a nuclear bomb and then leave. The state won't let you do that."

Whatever the future, Brocco and Pugsley expect to be at their posts through the 2004 election.

Brocco got to Delaware the old-fashioned way -- through networking. He had a job in South Jersey for the Republican Party when he heard that the Delaware GOP was looking for a legislative director for the 2002 election from Richard L. Smotkin, who also had worked for New Jersey Republicans and was here as the campaign manager for Attorney General M. Jane Brady. Brocco was promoted to executive director when Sutton left.

Brocco is not proud that he is still commuting from New Jersey. "How can I be in this position and not even be able to vote? I want to become a Delawarean," he said.

Pugsley got to the state the modern way -- through the Internet. He finished the 2002 campaign season as a field director in Missouri and was looking for a new assignment when he saw a posting for the Delaware job.

Pugsley is living in Trolley Square in Wilmington. "Even though it's on the other end of the country from where I grew up, it's nice to be someplace for two years," he said.

The executive directors bring different backgrounds to their jobs.

After graduating from Rutgers University's Camden campus in 1992, Brocco thought about law school, but he had an older brother who was a police officer and decided to try police work. He was hired by the department in Naples, Fla. -- "you know how it is when you're 22, you just want to get up and go" -- and stayed there for three years until he hurt his knee on the police softball team. He went home and got involved in politics.

Brocco is making no predictions about his tenure in Delaware. "Traditionally this job isn't something you make a career out of," he said. "I'm not your political junkie. When I leave, I can talk football. I have a life outside politics. Most people take this too seriously."

Pugsley has a 1995 bachelor's degree from South Oregon State University, a 1998 master's degree in political science from Colorado State University and also studied in England for a year.

His first campaign was for a state House seat in Oregon that was so big it covered eight counties and he never got to them all. The district was so conservative, he said, that the Democratic candidate didn't have a chance -- "even though she was an NRA member."

Pugsley also worked for EMILY's List, which raises contributions for Democratic women candidates who favor abortion rights. The name stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast -- it makes the dough rise." He had other assignments that involved him in the campaigns of Michigan Rep. Lynn N. Rivers and Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan, two Democrats who lost in 2002 -- Rivers in a primary forced by redistricting and Carnahan in the general election.

Pugsley arrived in Delaware with a reputation for what the political class calls GOTV -- "Get Out the Vote." He is also on his way to figuring out how the state works.

"It's very homey. It's very local," Pugsley said. "Everyone knows everyone, and you have to be careful what you say. It's hard for people to keep a secret."

Spoken like a true Delawarean.