Posted: Jan. 29, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Chris Coons could be occupying himself right now with the annual mailing of the New Castle County sewer bills. Then again, he could be plotting the contours of a race for the U.S. Senate.

What a choice. People have spent more time deciding, "Do you want fries with that?"

As early as Monday, the Senate candidacy could be official, freeing Coons from the political doldrums for the bluster of a campaign critical to the struggle for congressional control in the 2010 mid-term elections.

One day, library fines. The next day, the future of the free world.

Talk about a change of fortune. Not too long ago, Coons was being discouraged by his fellow Democrats from thoughts of leaving the county to run for attorney general. This was at the time they thought they already had a statewide ticket ready to go, just as soon as Beau Biden committed to the Senate race.

So Coons gamely focused on staying put, saying in December, "I am really enjoying being county executive. I feel like we have a good team. I have a good balance between public life and family. There's important work to do in the county."

Never mind.

Once Biden walked away Monday from the Senate campaign, to run instead for re-election as attorney general, Coons moved in behind so fast, it is a wonder he was not called for clipping.

"It is still true, I love county government. I've dedicated 10 years of my life to it. I've also experienced firsthand how disconnected policymakers in Washington can be from the real needs and daily lives of people at the grassroots and the governments who serve them," Coons said.

It makes so much sense. The Senate is really what Coons needs to do next to ensure that dog licenses are distributed efficiently.

The Senate race will not have the tension and allure it would have, if Biden were going for the Senate seat relinquished by his father-the-vice president against Mike Castle, the Republican congressman and ex-governor who has been winning statewide elections for 30 years.

Castle looked formidable in that matchup, and more so now. Still, the Democrats sound happy to have Coons as their alternative.

"We've had three or four people that expressed interest, Coons being one of them and Coons being the strongest candidate. He's a bright young guy who knows the issues," said John Daniello, the Democratic state chair.

Actually, the Republicans do not mind having Coons as the Democratic candidate, either.

"He is a very capable politician. He is a very good public speaker, and certainly he can raise some money. I don't know what he's going to run on. The county has not been managed well. Taxes have been raised several times. I don't think he can run on his record," said Tom Ross, the Republican state chair.

Coons, a lawyer from the family behind Gore-Tex maker W.L. Gore & Associates, was elected to four-year terms as County Council president in 2000 and county executive in 2004 and 2008. He does not have to resign to run for the Senate.

He came into the county executive's office as a white knight, driving away the administration of Tom Gordon/Sherry Freebery, fellow Democrats whose record of financial surpluses could not keep the voters from tiring of their high-handedness and run-ins with federal prosecutors.

Coons is known for his roving intellect, which led him to acquire degrees in law and divinity from Yale. No doubt he crafted his education toward the days he would be working on the county program to keep fats, oil and grease out of the sewers.

As the executive in the most populous of Delaware's three counties, Coons is a familiar figure to 60 percent of the electorate. The Republicans have largely been in disarray there, and he has never had a serious Republican opponent. Mike Castle would change that.

For nearly six years now, Coons could claim personal responsibility for every manhole cover in New Castle County. What a sacrifice he must be making to be willing to give it up.