Posted: May 22, 2003
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
For one shining hour on Wednesday afternoon,
the Delaware Republicans achieved something they long have pined
They looked like a party of inclusion.
In a partnership they arranged with the
Wilmington Metropolitan Urban League, the Republicans co-hosted an
appearance of U.S. Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige at the
DuPont Nemours Building before a crowd of about 100 people who
didn't look as monochromatic as, say, the U.S. Senate.
Usually when the state Republicans talk about
the minority presence among them, they are discussing the political
status of their state senators.
The event was billed as a session on public
education reform, and to an extent it was. No one could doubt the
involvement of the state's most prominent Republican, U.S. Rep.
Michael N. Castle, who is the chairman of a congressional
subcommittee on education reform, or the commitment of the Urban
League, a nonpartisan organization that regards education in concert
with economic development as the cornerstones of progress.
Still, the sponsors weren't kidding themselves
about the political implications. The Republicans were after votes
that customarily go to the Democrats.
"I'm a Republican, and I'm a conservative, and
I've thought for years that the city kids have not been well served
by my friends to the left," said William E. Manning, a sponsor who
is the president of the school board in the Red Clay Consolidated
School District, which includes part of Wilmington.
"This is an opportunity for Republicans if
Democrats aren't mindful," said Antoine J. "Tony" Allen, the Urban
League president. "I think they [Republicans] have a problem selling
their message locally, because national politics impacts
perceptions, and I commend them for their effort."
Paige helped the cause with remarks that
dovetailed with the Urban League's mission. "We believe education is
a civil right, just like the right to vote, just like the right to
be treated equally," he said.
The Republicans clearly believe they are on to
something, because Paige's visit was the second high-profile effort
the Bush administration has made to connect with city dwellers here
on education. President George W. Bush himself was the draw for an
event in April 2001 on the East Side.
Still, inroads for Republicans won't be easy
in the neighborhoods in Wilmington, which delivered more than 80
percent of its vote to Albert Gore Jr. in 2000 in helping the
Democratic presidential candidate carry the state. Even Mike Castle,
who routinely polls upwards of 70 percent statewide, breaks even at
best in the city.
The Delaware Republicans have been casting
about for the means into the minority community since what was
perhaps their best opportunity almost a decade ago. They recruited
Margaret Rose Henry, an African-American Democrat, to run in a 1994
special election to fill a vacancy for a state Senate seat in the
city, and she won.
Giddy Republicans dreamed of building on
Henry's victory to capture the state Senate majority or even take
over the mayor's office. Instead, Henry bolted for home in 1995,
disenchanted with the Gingrich Revolution and the increasingly
conservative turns it inspired.
Since that setback, the state Republicans have
found few avenues of progress, making the visit from Paige as good
as any place to start.
Various Democrats were on hand to see how it
went, including representatives from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, U.S. Sen.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper and Lt. Gov. John C.
Carney Jr. As the leader of the host city, Mayor James M. Baker was
there, too, to offer an official greeting.
In an offhand way Baker made the point that
Republicans are welcome but not too welcome. "I should have given
you a key to the city, but I didn't bring it," he said.
Far from taking offense, Paige was willing to
take what he could get. "Thank you for the key to the city you're
going to send me in the mail," he said.
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