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 Bear?"

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 star witnesses.

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 good war."

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 Freebery.

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 gun.


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 Journal."

Finally: "A place where you can insult your friends, but they don't hold it against you (I hope) . . . Thanks to The Gridiron."

That last sign better be true, or Lynda Maloney may think stacking library books for a living is a lark, next to cleaning sewers.