Posted: Jan. 15, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Harry Potter, the boy wizard, had his Chamber of Secrets. Alan Levin did, too.

Levin gave a little speech Monday at a gala dinner of the Delaware Chamber of Commerce to mark the end of his two-year term as its chair and never once mentioned You-Know-What.

He could have been one of Harry's friends, tiptoeing around naming the dark lord they preferred to call You-Know-Who.

This, despite Congressman Mike Castle prompting on the stage behind him, "Make your announcement." This, despite Chamber President Jim Wolfe wink-winking to the gathering, "The rumors are flying about his next step, whatever it may be."

This, despite Levin having the captive attention of 1,100 of his closest friends at the Chamber's biggest annual event, held at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington in a hall as inky-lit as the one at Hogwarts School for wizardry.

It was still his Chamber, and he still could pretend he had a secret. "The only announcement I'm going to make tonight is, I have had a blast being chairman," Levin said.

Oh well. Not too much longer, with the chairmanship finally complete. Levin, the ex-owner of Happy Harry's drug stores, will be running openly for governor any day now.

Levin's candidacy will come as a relief to his fellow Republicans, scuffling for relevance in this increasingly Democratic state, by affixing a solid name to their 2008 statewide ticket that otherwise has an ace in Mike Castle but spaces everywhere else.

It also will let the Republicans stop tiptoeing around You-Know-What and start chattering about all they hear is going on -- about Levin tapping into the old political network of the late Sen. Bill Roth, for whom he worked as the chief aide in the 1980s, and about Levin having campaign photographs taken, and about Levin considering who might make a good candidate for lieutenant governor.

In a small state like Delaware, where everything seems to overlap, there is barely a boundary between the Chamber and politics for Levin to cross. At the dinner, it was hard to tell whether there were more CEOs or politicians present.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the retiring Democrat, attended. So did the entire congressional delegation of Castle plus Joe Biden and Tom Carper, the Democratic senators.

Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell, the two Democrats who want to be governor, were there, as were Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn and Wilmington Council President Ted Blunt, the pair of Democrats competing for lieutenant governor, not to mention plenty of state legislators and local officials.

Even the Marvel Cup, the Chamber's coveted award, seeped into politics. It was given to Warren Allen, the chicken king, who came home to Seaford as an Army captain after World War II to serve three terms as a Democratic state representative.

Levin easily will give the Republicans a candidate with the political skills and financing to run a good race, but it will be harder for him to give them the governorship.

The Republicans have not sent anyone to Woodburn since Castle won a second term in 1988 before going to Washington, and no one has been elected governor in 40 years without previously running and winning statewide -- as Carney and Markell have, and Levin has not.

By this time next year, there will be a new governor to inaugurate, but it is more likely than not that everyone who ran will be back at the Chamber dinner, because that is the way Delaware is.

At the dinner, it fell to Tom Carper to salute the recent efforts that came up short without shame -- Biden's presidential campaign and the University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens, who lost the championship to Appalachian State, a football powerhouse that also beat Michigan and its UD-look-a-like helmets early in the season.

Carper was invested in both probably more than anybody else. He was the only member of Congress to endorse Biden, and his wife Martha is a graduate of Appalachian State.

Carper commended Biden. "Joseph, welcome home, we're proud of you," he said.

Then he lamented that Martha had the bragging rights from the football game, with her brother threatening to send him a t-shirt reading:

Appalachian State 49, Delaware 21, looks like Michigan, tastes like chicken.