Posted: Nov. 5, 2003
DEMOCRATIC DINNER BELONGS TO
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner hoofed into the
Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, the Delaware Democratic Party's premier
event, Tuesday night on her own two feet -- no walker, no crutches,
not even a cane, eight days after replacement surgery on her left
She appeared to be moving sturdily but slowly,
listing only a little, although she did not travel farther than the
length of the head table. It was placed on the stage of the Rollins
Center Ballroom in the Dover Downs Hotel & Conference Center, and
Minner entered stage right from the wings.
This was the governor's night. Not only would
she be running for re-election to the state's most coveted office
exactly a year later, but she was hailed for a recovery that party
leaders said reinforced her campaign slogan of "tough times, tough
choices, tough governor."
"We assumed she wouldn't make [the dinner],"
said Democratic State Chairman Richard H. Bayard. "She's tough in
overcoming anything that life throws at her."
Minner's presence also was heightened by the
absence of U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, both
unable to leave Washington in time for the dinner.
In their place, the Democrats showcased Lt.
Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A. Markell and New Castle
County Council President Christopher A. Coons -- all regarded as
rising talent behind the senators and the governor.
Party officials said they sold about 1,000
tickets at $35 for individuals or $1,500 for event sponsors.
Beyond the interest in the governor's left
knee, there was a mild rustling over the upcoming presidential
primary on Feb. 3, when Delaware joins six other states in voting a
week after New Hampshire leads off.
U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the 2000 vice
presidential nominee from Connecticut, has paid more attention to
Delaware than any of the nine Democratic candidates who want to take
on President George W. Bush and the Republicans, and his campaign
did it again at the dinner.
Hadassah Lieberman, the candidate's wife,
attended and was introduced to the crowd, although not asked to
speak. Other candidates -- retired General Wesley K. Clark, former
Vermont Gov. Howard B. Dean, Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and
Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry -- sent staffers who barely
attracted notice in an indication that Delaware has yet to get the
hang of this primary business.
"I'm here to meet as many people as I can,"
Hadassah Lieberman told reporters in an impromptu press conference
before the dinner. "We love Delaware."
Although Delaware Democrats face what could be
some ugly dissention in the 2004 election season, it was muted on
this night. Karen E. Peterson, the state senator who is considering
a primary against Minner, did not attend, nor did Sherry L. Freebery,
the New Castle County chief administrative officer who could run
against Coons, although County Executive Thomas P. Gordon was there.
Matthew P. Denn and Karen Weldin Stewart,
rivals for insurance commissioner, quietly worked the crowd in their
bid for the nomination to take on Donna Lee Williams, the Republican
The evening included an emotional recognition
of John P. "Pat" Healy, the Democrats' late state vice chairman who
was killed at age 52 in an auto accident in June. He was named the
posthumous winner of the Alexis I. du Pont Bayard Award for service
to the party. In addition, the Democrats created a John Patrick
Healy Extraordinary Volunteer Award and gave it to Michael A.
Begatto, the immediate past president of the Delaware AFL-CIO.
"Pat Healy was a very special Democrat and a
very special person," Carney said. "Pat Healy was one of a kind."
For the most part, though, the event seemed to
be more "general hospital" than "general election" with all the
interest in Minner's knee. The governor's 25-minute address,
delivered as she stood, was as much a medical update as a political
She said she went home to Milford three days
after her surgery and stopped taking pain medication after four
After discussing that recovery, however,
Minner turned to the recovery of the party's get-out-the-vote drive,
which did not measure up to the Republicans' effort in 2002, when
the Democrats turned out 45 percent of their registered voters and
the Republicans turned out 50 percent of theirs. Because the
Democrats outnumber the Republicans, there were more Democrats going
to the polls, but it was a wakeup call nevertheless.
"We can't be satisfied doing it the way we've
done it in the past. We've got to take a lesson from what they did,"
Minner said. "We have to start weeks ahead, months ahead. Maybe we
should just start tonight."
Minner promised that she and her knee
would be up to it. "It's going to be our goal to absolutely kick
butt," she said.
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