Posted: May 17, 2003
TIME FOR STRINE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Terry A. Strine took over a pivotal political
post that no one else seemed to want, becoming the chairman of the
Delaware Republicans amid an uncertain time when the party dearly
wants to believe it is on the rebound.
As a 65-year-old Wilmington businessman with
more enthusiasm than experience in politics, Strine was handed the
two-year chairmanship by acclamation at the Republican state
convention Saturday morning at the Dover Sheraton Inn & Conference
He has his work cut out for him, and he seemed
to know it. "Tomorrow is the first day of the race for 2004," Strine
Strine is assuming the most visible leadership
role in a party that has a lot to rebound from. After all but owning
this state from 1976 through 1992 under the governorships of Pierre
S. du Pont and Michael N. Castle, the Republicans saw their standing
They have chafed as they lost three
consecutive elections for governor and a U.S. Senate seat and
watched George W. Bush go to the White House with Delaware in the
Democratic column. The bright spot has been the state House of
Representatives, where the Republican majority swelled to 29 out of
41 members in the 2002 election, largely on a strong showing
Before Strine, a number of people with more
experience took a look at the situation and said no to the
chairmanship, although all gave other reasons for doing so.
J. Everett Moore Jr., the immediate past
chairman, walked away unexpectedly after a single term, which he had
claimed in 2001 by overthrowing Basil R. Battaglia, the chairman
since 1988, and overcoming the party's customary squeamishness for
power struggles. But that's how bad it was.
Moore said he left because he had accomplished
his objective of opening up the party to new life and new people.
The obvious choices to succeed him -- Vice Chairman John R. Matlusky,
Kent County Chairman Patrick W. Murray and National Committeewoman
Priscilla B. Rakestraw -- decided they would rather not, all saying
they could do more for the party in their current assignments.
Just in case Battaglia had thoughts about
coming back -- and there were some stirrings he might -- the party
leadership took care of it by referring to him as "chairman
emeritus" and having Moore give him a special award, so Battaglia
would know he was better off in retirement.
So it is Strine. He is the owner of a property
management business with 45 employees and spent the last two years
as an informal adviser to Moore. He is perhaps best-known for
organizing the Republican Leadership Breakfasts, monthly meetings
with featured speakers.
Strine already has weathered an early trial,
following the revelation that he quietly changed his voter
registration last month to a Wilmington apartment, located above his
company, just in case that Chateau Country home he bought last year
really was over the line in Pennsylvania. His candidacy never even
stuttered because of it.
At this point, all of the party's top
leadership posts belong to upstaters with Strine as chairman,
Matlusky as vice chairman, Rakestraw as national committeewoman and
W. Laird Stabler Jr. as national committeeman, but there has not
been a peep out of the notoriously sensitive downstaters.
It seems to be a tacit acknowledgement of the
question that arose when Moore, a Georgetown lawyer, took over the
party -- whether anyone could manage the stamina and logistics to
run the party from downstate when most Delawareans live upstate and
the headquarters is in Wilmington.
As a consequence of that reality setting in,
Strine's nomination took shape. His name was placed before the
convention by state Sen. Charles L. Copeland, the newest star from
Chateau Country, and seconded by Phyllis Byrne, the Sussex County
acting chairwoman, in a marriage of the financial firepower upstate
and the political muscle downstate that the party needs to thrive.
In addition to choosing a chairman, the
Republicans also re-elected to two-year terms Matlusky as vice
chairman, Cathy Murray as secretary and Thomas J. Shopa as
treasurer. Rakestraw and Stabler serve four-year terms that are up
The only intrigue at the convention was some
maneuvering to get William Swain Lee, the ex-judge who is running
for governor in 2004, some time in the spotlight while the party
pretends not to have chosen sides between Lee and Michael D. Protack,
an airline pilot.
It was accomplished when Lee took to the
lectern to present Moore with a plaque in honor of his leadership.
Lee also got a boost when Shopa gave his acceptance speech for
treasurer while wearing a Lee campaign t-shirt.
Protack was left to seethe and to distribute a
letter, which curiously compared the efforts to talk him out of the
race to Bill Clinton, not exactly a nice thing to do in Republican
circles. He said, "[It] is like former President Clinton giving out
marriage and relationship counseling. That dog won't hunt."
The convention was over in a brief two hours.
Parliamentarian Richard A. Forsten could have clocked out early
without being missed.
One Republican was driven to quip, "This is
Deadsville." It is believed he meant the convention, not the future
of the party.
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