Posted: March 11, 2003
YOU'RE NOT FROM HERE, ARE YOU?
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
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.
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