Posted: Jan. 18, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Beneath a thick blanket of polar cold and smothering security, the valedictory oath-taking of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was nearly lost to notice.

This was "Survivor: The Inauguration."

The state constitution sets the date for the governor to take office on the third Tuesday in January, and state custom puts the ceremony outside of Legislative Hall in Dover, and so the swearing-in was held there in cold as raw as a toothache.

The U.S. and Delaware flags rippled high on their flagpoles against a sunny sky in a merciless wind that rumbled in the podium microphone like distant thunder.

It was so cold that it was hard not to think about William Henry Harrison, sworn in as president in 1841 and dead a month later from the aftereffects of the elements at his inauguration, where he had gone hatless and given a marathon of a speech.

Minner, the state's 72nd governor, the first of the 21st Century and the only woman elected to its highest office, was not taking similar chances. The second-term Democrat wore a black coat, scarf, gloves and earmuffs, all set off by a blue and gold corsage, and limited the ceremony to an hour.

It was so cold that it froze the instruments of the Milford High School Band from the governor's home town. It was so cold that Chief Justice Myron T. Steele wished for his duck-hunting outfit. It was so cold that Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., a Democrat who also took his oath for a second term, found it hard to speak to give his speech.

It was so cold that the political crowd did not take the opportunity to gossip about the governor's super-controversial nominations of Richard S. Cordrey and Thomas B. Sharp, a pair of Democratic ex-presidents pro tem of the Senate she wants in her Cabinet, even though Cordrey was there and Sharp was not.

Not that there was much of a crowd. Second inaugurations tend to draw less of one, and the cold cut it down even more. The band members and security forces probably outnumbered the couple hundred people who did not come close to filling the rows of chairs that were set out.

If the cold was an unshakable presence, so was security. Streets were blocked off, and uniforms were everywhere. Matthew P. Denn, the new Democratic insurance commissioner, got so hung up in the dragnet while trying to drive in that he resorted to a cell phone call to his former co-workers in the governor's office, where he worked as the legal counsel, to get him cleared through.

The high alert was the result of advice from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about all gubernatorial inaugurations. This was, of course, the first one since Sept. 11, 2001, but it did not attract so much as a determined heckler.

Anyone wanting to disrupt Delaware would have been better off waiting for the evening and the girls' basketball game between Ursuline and St. Elizabeth, both with far greater followings than any politician.

The official press release for the day called Minner's speech a vision of optimism, but as much as she promised to work on education, health, safety, the environment and the economy, there was also a damn-the-torpedoes tone to it.

Minner has said repeatedly that her second and constitutionally-final term will end a political career that began 30 years ago and took her from the legislature to lieutenant governor to governor, and clearly she intends to make the most of it, as the words of her inaugural address showed.

"Even more than ever before, I will make decisions without regard to their political popularity or their consequences," Minner said.

Minner already has done so with her choices of Cordrey as finance secretary and Sharp as labor secretary. It has led to fierce divisiveness, and her Inauguration Day did not bring any sort of January thaw.

In interviews inside Legislative Hall after the ceremonies, Senate Minority Leader John C. Still III, a Republican, said Minner has been practicing "favoritism and cronyism better than any governor I've seen," while she scoffed, "There are some folks who always want to tell the governor who to appoint."

Obviously the cold from the outside had seeped inside. The crowd was thoroughly frozen by the time the program closed with the singing of "Our Delaware," the state song, and there was much griping that it went all four verses.

At the end people surged into Legislative Hall to get warm, and it was a good thing that no one tried to make them line up to go through the single metal detector, or there probably would have been a riot.

The final score of the day was Cold 1, Security 0.