Posted: Jan. 9, 2004
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
David L. Tackett is running
for the New Castle County Council, or at least he thinks he is.
Tackett, a Democrat with
past experience as a county planning board member and civic
association president, has set up a campaign committee, collected
almost $8,500 in contributions and made the rounds of party
He certainly looks like a
candidate and acts like a candidate -- unless the Newark-Glasgow
area seat he is running for disappears.
The County Council by law is
slated almost to double in size in this election year, going from
seven members to 13 members, from six districts and a council
president elected countywide to 12 districts and a council
president. The old districts have been divided in two, retaining the
current council members, all of whom are in the middle of four-year
terms, and providing seats for a half-dozen new members, also with
The expansion was set in
motion by the Delaware General Assembly, which is responsible for
passing the laws that determine the county government's structure,
but with the election bearing in, a number of legislators are having
As the lawmakers prepare to
return to Dover on Tuesday for the 2004 session, there is a movement
to leave the council at seven members, depriving someone like
Tackett of an office to seek and leaving his would-be constituents
continuing to be represented by Democrat Karen G. Venezky.
"I would hope they wouldn't
roll it back at this late date," Tackett said.
A roll-back bill already is
halfway to the governor's desk. The measure, Senate Bill 53, was
introduced last year by state Sen. Karen E. Peterson, a Stanton
Democrat who served two terms as the County Council president in the
1980s, and it was passed by the Senate in June in the waning days of
the 2003 legislative session.
At the time the legislation
was regarded as dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,
where expansion has been championed since the early 1990s by some
influential Republicans whose party is in the majority there. More
recently, however, opinions have been changing as fast as Pete
Rose's story about betting on baseball, and the roll-back may have
some life, after all.
"I'm going to bring it up in
caucus on Tuesday," said state Rep. Deborah D. Hudson, a Republican
who represents the Centreville-Hockessin area. "I just don't like
doubling the council. I think it's excessive."
Various circumstances have
changed over the years, but the tipping point on expansion may have
been the raw politics of redistricting.
The Democrats who control
the County Council by 5-2 made no secret of their intent to follow
the example of the House Republicans, who fashioned legislative
districts that increased their majority in the 41-member chamber
from 26 to 29 representatives in the 2002 election.
While anything can happen in
politics, it is assumed that the expanded County Council could have
eight or 10 Democrats on it, not counting the president. This
naturally got the attention of the Republican Party in general and
its legislators in specific -- not least because it could generate a
new class of Democratic officeholders who could be potential
legislative candidates with the luxury of running mid-term for the
Minds changed. "I'm someone
who initially was an advocate of expanding County Council. I thought
the districts were too big, and this could break up the 'amen'
council that doesn't question the county executive," said Thomas S.
Ross, the New Castle County Republicans' co-chairman. "The
redistricting has been such a sham process of cronyism and back-room
deals that I've gone 180 degrees, and I'm opposing it. There are a
lot better things we could do in this county than spend money on
In contrast John D. Daniello,
the Democratic Party's county chairman, countered that the expansion
ought not to be stopped now. "We spent a year doing what the law
asked us to do. We did it, and here we go again," he said.
In addition to the politics,
there are policy considerations at stake.
The drive for expansion
began with a sorry chapter in county history -- a federal corruption
case that forced Ronald J. Aiello, a Democrat, off the County
Council in 1989 and sent him to jail for extorting a $100,000 bribe
on rezoning votes. It led to the reasoning that more council members
might have a leavening effect on land use matters, bringing in a
broader perspective and presumably more honesty.
In the slow pace of
lawmaking, as the legislature wrestled with whether to expand the
County Council, how much to expand it and when to expand it, the
county reformed its rezoning procedures. Opinions shifted --
although the land use problems had quieted, perhaps there was a need
for a larger council because of population growth, 13 percent from
1990 to 2000, taking the largest and northernmost of the state's
three counties from 441,946 to 500,265 people.
"Land use was in an uproar.
It was a real zoo. There was no rhyme or reason why something would
get rezoned," said state Rep. Roger P. Roy, a Pike Creek Valley
Republican who was an early advocate of expansion but not anymore.
"Now I'm not so sure. I don't see the need like it was, as far as
rezoning goes. If there's any reason now, it's because of the growth
of the county."
There is also a question of
expense. Peterson, the Senate sponsor of the roll-back bill,
estimates that expansion would cost $1 million in the first year of
the changeover and $750,000 a year thereafter, and after managing to
deal with the entire county herself, she wonders whether more
members really would improve representation.
"Is doubling the size of
County Council a good idea or a bad idea? I think it's a bad idea.
It's just an extra expense, and some people still will be left with
non-responsive council representatives," Peterson said.
The prospect for Peterson's
bill is unclear. Downstate legislators from Kent and Sussex counties
mostly favor the roll-back -- just what they need is more upstate
politicians -- but New Castle County legislators are split. They
divide roughly but not entirely with those in lower-growth areas to
the north favoring the roll-back and those in higher-growth areas to
the south against it.
Civic associations are
similarly divided, leading Roy to speculate about why a growing area
like Bear favors expansion. "I'm not sure if they want more
representation or if they want to run for office," Roy quipped.
County Executive Thomas P.
Gordon, a two-term Democrat, is against the expansion. The County
Council used to be unanimously against expansion but now has a mixed
"After publicly opposing
redistricting, council at the end of June last year accepted that
the General Assembly wasn't going to act, and we went ahead and did
our job. For them to change their minds months later strikes me as
unfair, but council will respect what the legislature says," said
Christopher A. Coons, the council's Democratic president.
Roy predicts a House roll
call would be close. If the roll-back bill is approved, however, it
would be on its way to gubernatorial disfavor. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner,
a Democrat, is not saying whether she would veto the bill, but she
is against it.
"The governor has always
supported the expansion because she believes it will help make the
county government more representative and responsive. Any attempt to
undo the expansion at this late date would cause problems in the
election process," said Gregory B. Patterson, the administration's
Whatever happens, Roy says
it should occur quickly. "It's got to be dealt with the first two
weeks we're in, or you leave it alone. You want to let them get
organized," he said.
officials for New Castle County are sending out voter registration
cards with the new districts, the political parties are recruiting,
and candidates like Tackett and George D. Smiley, a Democrat who
wants to run in a new New Castle-Christiana area district, are
working on their campaigns.
Smiley has a little money in
his campaign account, he has put up some signs, and he has gone
door-knocking here and there to get acquainted with the voters. He
is the only one who seems certain of what will happen.
"I'm running until the gavel
falls in Dover and tells me I'm not or the polls close on Nov. 2,"
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