Posted: Jan. 21, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Martin Luther King breakfast in Wilmington was full of pastors preaching politics -- and one pastor who has decided to get into politics himself.

The atmosphere at the breakfast, attended by a robust showing of about 800 people Monday at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, was what it always has been over the course of its 24 years.

It was part church service and part political rally, the essence of King himself, the great civil rights leader who was assassinated 40 years ago this spring, two months before Bobby Kennedy, during a cataclysmic time of a far-off war, domestic strife and murdered hope.

The breakfast had recruiting tables set up for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, spiritual singing, and equal acclaim for clergy and officeholders. Everyone got a ballpoint pen from state Rep. Hazel Plant, the Wilmington Democrat who hosts the breakfast with the Organization of Minority Women.

No wonder Chris Bullock, the pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in the city, let it be known here that he intends to become a Democratic candidate for Delaware's lone congressional seat occupied by Mike Castle, an eight-term Republican who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives longer than anybody else in state history.

Bullock has been tap-dancing around politics for quite a while. He has explored it as a Democrat, a Republican and now a Democrat again, in Delaware and Chicago and now in Delaware again. He has looked previously at various offices, including a false start for congressman last year, but this time he is acting as though he really means to do it.

Bullock has committed to declaring for the House on Feb. 9, and although Dennis Spivack, Karen Hartley-Nagle and Mike Miller, all past Democratic candidates, have made noises about running again, Bullock has to be considered the likeliest nominee.

"I'm motivated by my friend Barack Obama, whom I've talked with. It feels right. Nothing personal against our current congressman, but it's time for a change," Bullock said in a short interview.

"The condition of America warrants new leadership, a new voice and a change in opportunity for those who have been marginalized."

As agreeable as the mood was for Bullock, it was not hostile for Castle, who naturally was at the breakfast, too, and possesses the good will that has kept him in office since 1980 as lieutenant governor, governor and congressman.

Castle got a shout-out from "Stormin'" Norman Oliver, the master of ceremonies who used to be a Democratic city councilman. "Congressman Castle, he's always here. I like Castle. He's a good Republican," Oliver said.

There were so many politicians present, they may have outnumbered the wait-staff. Silvester Beaman, the keynote speaker who is the pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Wilmington, gave up on naming them all and simply welcomed "those who are and those who want to be."

In addition to Castle, the statewide officeholders attending were: U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and Attorney General Beau Biden, a pair of Democrats not up for election this year; Lt. Gov. John Carney and Treasurer Jack Markell, both Democrats who want to be governor; and Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn, a Democrat running for the lieutenant governor nomination against Wilmington Council President Ted Blunt, who bypassed the breakfast to go downstate for another King event.

All candidates were equal, but some were more equal than others.

A letter from Obama was placed strategically on every seat. Sam Lathem, the state AFL-CIO president and preacher who is a pro-Carney Democratic kingmaker, playfully introduced Carney as "the lieutenant governor for the state of Delaware, what's his name," and then declared he would mention Carney every 10 minutes -- which he did for a while. Lathem also talked up Blunt and recognized Denn only belatedly.

"I hope before the program is over, we can get John Carney and Jack Markell to get a little fight going up here," quipped Oliver, stirring stuff up even more.

Beaman's keynote remarks, which he labeled a speech and a sermon in keeping with the tone of the day, were called "Breaking the Silence."

His inspiration was "A Time to Break Silence," King's speech against the Vietnam War on April 4, 1967, a year before his death, at the Riverside Church in New York. Beaman took his own stand against a lingering war.

"I also break the silence and say to our nation and its leaders, we must end this war now," he thundered. "There are some nights I can't sleep, and I may never have another opportunity like this, so let me speak my mind."

After Beaman spoke, everybody stood up and sang "We Shall Overcome."

If Martin Luther King could have been there, he might have wanted to change the words that soothed him 40 years ago to "We did overcome," if he could have looked around the room and seen the Obama political buttons, the African-American statewide candidates and Mayor Jim Baker sitting at the head table and former Mayor Jim Sills sitting in the crowd.

There is still a way to go, but the march is undeniable and the road is shorter than it used to be.