Posted: Nov. 11, 2003
FOUR YEARS LATER, LEE TRIES
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
William Swain Lee would like to believe the
second time is the charm, as he declared his candidacy for governor
Tuesday with a traditional tour through Delaware's three counties
that he took in a nontraditional fashion.
Lee's route was a fish hook -- starting in
Dover in Kent County, traveling north to Wilmington in New Castle
County, then turning south to another New Castle County stop in
Middletown before ending in Georgetown in his home county of Sussex.
It was as indirect and meandering as Lee's
unorthodox pursuit of the governorship has been -- a judge who put
politics behind him for more than two decades, only to be lured back
to it by a fresh roar from the crowd when he presided at the
sensational murder trial of Thomas J. Capano and sentenced him to
Lee bolted from the bench into the 2000
gubernatorial race, losing the Republican nomination to John M.
Burris by a heartbreaking 46 votes, but only suspending his campaign
afterwards, not really stopping it. As soon as the election was over
and Democrat Ruth Ann Minner was the new governor, Lee was back at
it -- and making it official today.
"My name is Bill Lee, and I want to be your
governor," he said.
He had crowds of about 60 or 70 people in
front of the historic Old State House on The Green in Dover and the
famous statue of Caesar Rodney on its namesake square in Wilmington,
before he headed toward home.
In another unconventional twist, Lee is trying
to become the first candidate since the political parties began
selecting their gubernatorial nominees in 1972 through primary
elections, not conventions, to be elected without previous running
and winning statewide.
By contrast, Minner has run and won three
times statewide, twice as lieutenant governor in 1992 and 1996 and
once as governor in 2000.
Lee has something that eluded him before --
the backing of party regulars. He was introduced at his various
stops by Kent County Chairman Patrick W. Murray, National
Committeewoman Priscilla B. Rakestraw, state Rep. Richard C.
Cathcart and former State Chairman J. Everett Moore Jr.
It is the sort of muscle that has all but
silenced Michael D. Protack, a Yorklyn airline pilot also seeking
the Republican nomination, and Attorney General M. Jane Brady, who
has refused to rule it out.
Lee and Minner form an interesting pair,
probably the last of their kind, gubernatorial candidates whose
public life is rooted more in the 20th Century than the 21st. He is
67. She is 68. He spent 22 years on the bench from 1977 to 1999. She
has put in 29 years in the state house from 1974 until today.
Lee acknowledges that Minner is ahead, even in
his own polling, but predicts he can overtake her as he becomes
better known and makes his case. "People have said, 'She's done
better than I thought,' but that's damned with faint praise," Lee
Minner appears to be taking Lee seriously in
return. Her campaign organization was finishing up its own polling
as of Monday, on the eve of Lee's announcement.
After so many years on the bench, Lee speaks
affably with the air of someone who does not expect to be
contradicted. His speech made clear that he intends to run this race
like a referendum on the governor.
"I'm a judge, not a politician. I spent my
public career doing the right thing, without regard to wealth, power
or station. Impartial justice and fairness are as essential in the
governor's office as they are in the courtroom. The governor is a
good politician. It's what she does for a living," Lee said.
"Folks, the governor is not a bad person. She
is doing the best she can. The fault is not hers, it's ours. . . .
We have come to accept mediocrity. It's time to change, not just our
governor -- although I believe that's a great place to start -- but
also our willingness to accept anything less that excellence.
Mediocrity is not good enough. In fact, 'good' is not good enough.
Delaware deserves better."
Lee charged Minner with fudging budget
numbers, miscalculating tax revenues and pushing through unnecessary
tax increases to create a pot of money to be doled out to further
her political career. He also called her stewardship of the economy
and education particularly inadequate.
His remarks found favor with his partisans.
"He was very good. He made it clear we need to
accept none of the status quo," said John R. Matlusky, the
Republican state vice chairman.
"Judge Lee did a wonderful job of stating what
is wrong in this state. It was a beautiful speech," said Thomas S.
Ross, the New Castle County Republican co-chairman.
Minner's governorship has been largely a
financial tale of constantly recalculating state spending in a
sputtering economy. She also has put herself on the line by taking
sides in visceral debates -- enforcing a smoking ban, endorsing a
gay anti-discrimination bill and committing to a buyout of the
Glenville houses flooded in September by Tropical Storm Henri, none
of which Lee addressed in his speech.
In a telephone interview, Minner responded to
Lee herself. "I would be quite happy to debate him on my record
anytime, anywhere," she said. "We are well ahead of most states.
When we get ready to start campaigning, that's what I'm going to
Minner said she would be limiting her
campaigning until the end of the 2004 legislative session in June.
Meanwhile, Lee has put his battle scarf on -- literally. He
campaigned in 2000 while wearing a scarf, and a plaid one was back
around his neck as he declared his candidacy.
He regarded it as a good omen. "It's a
merciful Lord that will make the day just cool enough so I can wear
the scarf," Lee said.
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