Posted: May 6, 2003
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
If there was ever a question whether Lynda R.
Maloney was the sort who could take a dare, a double dare, even a
triple dare, it went away Saturday evening at the First State
Gridiron Dinner & Show.
Maloney is the magical maestro of Delaware's
annual roast, a black-tie affair for the state's political and
corporate elite, now in its 12th year. Outside of her merrymaking,
she also happens to work for New Castle County, and there was no
doubt that County Executive Thomas P. Gordon and Chief
Administrative Officer Sherry L. Freebery were irresistible roastees.
Not when the county is being investigated by
the feds. Not when guns belonging to Freebery's ex-husband, a
defrocked-cop-turned-bank-robber, turn up in her home. Not when
Freebery gets into a snotty letter-writing contest with state
Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward III over who promised what
to whom for sewers and roads in lower New Castle County.
Still, Bill & Hillary and Bonnie & Clyde have
nothing on toughness when it comes to Gordon & Freebery, as Maloney
knows well. She was banished for a time from the executive office to
the Bear library after she was called to testify before a federal
grand jury. Her sister, also a county employee, was exiled, too.
Talk about your gridiron.
Maloney is a trouper's trouper, and the show
had to go on -- even if Maloney herself is never sure of exactly
what will go on. So many people have a say in it that Gridiron makes
the General Assembly look organized.
Was it Maloney's fault that J. Brian Murphy, a
consultant for the city, chose Freebery as the model for his annual
appearance in drag? Murphy came out in a blonde wig and an angel's
costume with a little red devil's tail and quipped, "Thanks heavens
I work for the mayor."
Was it Maloney's fault that Robert L. Byrd,
the legislative lobbyist, pushed the envelope? Byrd played the
turban-wearing Karnac, a jolly mystic who gives answers to questions
that are sealed inside envelopes. Karnac divined the answer, "a
million to one," to a question that turned out to be, "What were the
odds of finding a library book when Lynda Maloney was a librarian in
There were about 470 witnesses to this
mischief at the Bank One Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, and
yes, Gordon & Freebery were among them. Their presence loomed so
large that it overshadowed the absence of what would have been other
Among the missing were U.S. Sen. Joseph R.
Biden Jr., who was giving a speech in California, and U.S. Sen.
Thomas R. Carper, who was participating in a Democratic caucus
retreat. Also gone was William Swain Lee, the Republican
gubernatorial candidate and man-about-town who was at a wedding.
Naturally, it was not his.
The happiest event-goer seemed to be Michael
E. Harkins, the punch line to so many jokes at the last Gridiron
after his antics as executive director transformed the Delaware
River & Bay Authority into his personal Carnival Cruise Line. After
the show Harkins gravitated to Freebery to bubble, "It was my turn
last year! It's yours this year!"
What an occasion it was, bringing together
those both targeted and untargeted by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Colm F. Connolly, the arch prosecutor himself, was not there, and it
was probably just as well. If he had made one of those decks of
cards, like the Pentagon's, he might have spent his evening playing
"52-Pickup" instead of watching the show.
A Gridiron staple is the recognition of its
deep-pocketed sponsors, who are made to pay for paying. Their names
are flashed on giant screens with descriptions like these:
"Richards Layton & Finger -- We're billing
this dinner to our unsuspecting clients."
"DuPont -- The only French who still love a
One old favorite was missing. Gridiron has
come to mean Lynda Maloney's annual takeoff on "Don't Cry For Me,
Argentina" from the show Evita. She said she ran out of
ideas, but a better explanation probably is writer's block. At least
she has some instinct for self-preservation, because frankly, it was
obvious what she should have been singing:
Don't cry out for me, Colm Connolleeee.
I hear that you're coming after me.
But I'm not a terrorist,
So please don't 'cuff my wrists,
And I'm sure I don't know Sherry
What did get sung, though, was a little number
to the tune of "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" from Annie Get
Your Gun. Local performer Kelleye Martin belted it out, although
she eschewed a blonde wig:
I'm quick on the trigger
With targets not much bigger
Than a pinpoint, I'm Number One.
But I'm takin' a lickin'
For shady politickin'
And I swear I didn't know about the
Oh, the gu-un, the stolen gu-un.
I just can't explain the gun.
I'm cool, calm and daring
When Connolly is glaring -- at me
Like I'm Public Enemy Number One.
But I'm not confessin'
Where I got that Smith & Wesson.
It's hard to stay ahead
When you're hounded by the Fed,
And I just can't explain the gun.
As usual at the Gridiron, the last word went
to the governor. Ruth Ann Minner got her best laugh when she
mentioned a certain letter-writing escapade and advised, "Nathan and
Sherry, get a room."
The governor's transportation secretary also
was the inspiration for another series of gags. With repairs
dragging on some railroad-owned bridges, Hayward had posted signs
reading, "Bridge closed . . . Thanks to CSX."
Minner proposed some signs of her own:
"Recession since Minner's second day in
office . . . Thanks to Tom Carper."
"Preservation of Delaware's smoking ban . .
. Thanks to senators out-debated by a 13-year-old."
"Attorney General Jane Brady . . . Thanks
to Vivian Houghton."
"State employees who expect a raise every
stinkin' year . . . Thanks to Tom Carper."
"Worst drought ever . . . Thanks to Tom
Carper (Why not?)"
"A state where you have to read Celia's Web
site to find out what's really happening . . . Thanks to The News
Finally: "A place where you can insult your
friends, but they don't hold it against you (I hope) . . . Thanks to
That last sign better be true, or Lynda
Maloney may think stacking library books for a living is a lark,
next to cleaning sewers.
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