Posted: July 25, 2003; Updated: July 26, 2003




Nearly a year ago Charles L. Copeland entered Delaware politics with a flourish, knocking off a Republican state senator in a primary on his way to claiming the seat for himself. Now it appears that Copeland never considered that to be anything but an opening act.

Ten days ago, this time without much of a flourish, a new political group met for the first time with Copeland as a prime mover behind it. The group has yet to be named, but it does have a purpose -- to draw a new generation of conservatives into politics and encourage them to run for office.

"For the last several years, the comment is that the Republicans don't have a bench," Copeland said.

Copeland brings a certain credibility to this effort. Not only did he set an example by running himself, he comes with built-in clout. For the first meeting, for example, the speaker was former Gov. Pierre S. du Pont, also known around Copeland's house as Cousin Pete.

The meeting brought about 45 people to Republican headquarters in Wilmington, although Copeland said he doesn't envision the group will be strictly Republican as it takes shape. He wants it to be driven more by policy than partisanship.

The membership is expected to range in age from early 20s to mid-to-late 40s. "That's so I can stay in," quipped Copeland, who is 40 himself. "I've got about six years before I have to re-evaluate that."

No matter how Copeland defines the group, other Republicans are looking at it as one means of invigorating their party, which is focusing these days on rebuilding an organization and recruiting candidates as it plays catch-up to the Democrats.

The Republicans made a start at it in 2002 with a strong showing in Sussex County, taking seven of the eight state representative districts there, but it is the Democrats who hold the governorship, both seats in the U.S. Senate and are said to have a bench with Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A. Markell, New Castle County Council President Christopher A. Coons and Beau Biden, the senator's son.

"I have urged this since before I became chairman. It's not my program as party chairman, but I'm delighted it's occurring. I am a big, big believer that we must have a pipeline. If we're ever going to take over the state Senate, we're going to need a lot of young folks," said Terry A. Strine, the Republican state chairman.

"There is a lot of activity on a lot of different fronts in the Republican Party in the state. I think it's a new wave. There's a realization that having the Democrats control everything isn't good," said James P. Ursomarso, the Wilmington Republican chairman.

"We have to build a farm team. This is the kind of thing we've done in the party for a long time. It has the potential for lighting the fire. You've got to develop a bunch of people who think there's a future in it and get them interested," du Pont said.

There is naturally the possibility that Copeland himself might like to be one of the first Republicans coming off the bench. The party already has showcased him by giving him a speaking role at its state convention last spring, and it could not hurt if there was an organization of like-minded conservatives who could help him if he helped them.

"Ninety percent of politics is being in the right place at the right time. If the right place and the right time don't occur, I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing," Copeland said.

If Copeland sounded circumspect about his political future, his cousin did not. "Charlie's surely going to run for something," du Pont said.

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Thomas C. Maloney, the late Democratic ex-mayor of Wilmington, was known for playfully turning life and politics into performance art. The people who loved him for it have seen no reason to stop, just because he's not around to strum his ukulele and lock the doors to keep a party going into the night.

They decided that someone who always seemed larger than life deserved to be remembered that way, so they commissioned Charles C. Parks, the noted Wilmington sculptor with a studio along the Brandywine, to do a bronze statue of Maloney, more than seven feet tall.

Then they had to figure out a way to pay for it. Oh, and find a place to put it. In true Maloney fashion, they figured everything would come together -- the way the political gridiron show he masterminded every year inevitably did -- and it has.

Maloney was 30 years old when he was elected mayor in 1972 at the time the city needed a lift, four years after the rioting that followed the killing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Maloney left as his primary legacy the Market Street Mall as a main street for the city with the Grand Opera House as a cultural anchor. He was 58 when he died of cancer two years ago, his beloved Broadway show tunes playing to pipe him out.

The statue cost $85,000, but it was going to take about $100,000 to cover not only the price of the artwork but also a pedestal, plaque and dedication ceremony. Naturally the first thing to do to raise some money was plan a party.

It had to be typically offbeat, and it was. Only Maloney's circle would throw a fund-raiser by inviting people to celebrate his 60th birthday -- except it wasn't quite on the right date. His birthday landed on Good Friday last year, so the gathering was held a week earlier.

The hosts were Lynda R. Maloney, the city's former first lady, and J. Brian Murphy, a city consultant. Lynda Maloney also is known these days as the New Castle County aide who has done more to publicize libraries than anyone since Marian the Librarian in "Music Man." Murphy started in politics as a college-age intern for Tom Maloney with the weighty responsibilities of driving him around and taking his shirts to the cleaners, but Murphy got hooked, anyway.

"Brian Murphy is the patron saint of this. It could never have been done without him," Lynda Maloney said.

Last week there was another party.  The invitations called it "the 16-month anniversary of the last party" and explained, "We had so much fun the last time, we've decided to, as Tom would say, have just one more!"

This one essentially completed the fund raising. It also coincided with the night that a city panel approved a location for the sculpture, voting to place it fittingly on the Market Street Mall near the Grand Opera House.

The statue will be dedicated sometime in September. The city, which already has participated by donating $20,000 toward the artwork through the Wilmington Arts Commission, will be involved in the ceremony.

"This is a way of saying, thank you," said Mayor James M. Baker, a Democrat who was elected to the City Council the same year Maloney became mayor.

The sculpture shows Maloney as he was in a photograph taken in August 1975, his jacket slung over his shoulder. No matter the season, Maloney will be fixed in that moment, as perhaps he should be. Wherever he was, it was summer.