Posted: Jan. 18, 2013
THE BALLOT OF THE POLITICAL OUTCASTS
By Celia Cohen
Delaware politics had reason to avert its eyes this week. This is what happens when it has to consort a little too much with the criminal justice system.
To begin with, it was forced to take another look-between-the-fingers peek at the queasy circumstances that made the Republicans switch candidates in mid-campaign during a Sussex County race for state senator.
As if anyone could forget, the Republicans went all the way to the Supreme Court in late October for the right to substitute a candidate for Eric Bodenweiser, who yanked himself off the ballot as he was about to be indicted for child sex abuse after an accuser ended some 20 years of silence.
The timing was perilous. The state was braced simultaneously for Hurricane Sandy with a travel ban on and a lot of power off and for Election Day with a pressing need to get the voting machines in and the absentee ballots out.
The legal rulings came in such a rush that the Supreme Court simply declared the Republicans were allowed to replace Bodenweiser with Brian Pettyjohn, even at that late date, and promised its written rationale would come later.
Now it has. With campaign escapades in winter hibernation and Pettyjohn safely installed as a Republican state senator, the Supreme Court has spoken.
The court opinion came out Wednesday. The timing was rich. It was the day after state politics learned of another close encounter with the criminal justice system.
Richard Korn, a peripheral political figure who managed to be the only Democratic candidate to lose a statewide race in the last two elections, was arrested by the New Castle County police for dealing in child pornography. He was jailed until he made bail on Wednesday.
Truly, it is an axiom of American life that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but as for the court of public opinion? It is probably safe to say Bodenweiser and Korn will not be appearing on any future ballots.
One Republican and one Democrat, how nice of them to make it bipartisan.
The Supreme Court's opinion actually turned on how politically untouchable Bodenweiser was. As if for emphasis, the decision from the five-member bench was unanimous and signed by Myron Steele, the chief justice.
The Republicans went to court after Elaine Manlove, the state election commissioner, read the law to say they could not substitute a new candidate because they were only allowed to replace someone who had an "actual" incapacity to hold office. This was to prevent gaming the system and switching candidates for political advantage.
The Supreme Court called Manlove's interpretation reasonable, but it sided with the Republicans who argued that Bodenweiser had a "practical" incapacity.
Being out on bail, under the conditions to wear a monitoring bracelet and avoid contact with anyone under 18 years old, not to mention a crying need to focus on a defense against charges of child sex crimes, can have that effect.
Besides, the court found it was in the public interest for the voters to have a choice at the polls.
Korn at least avoided the complication of being on the ballot at the time he was arrested. His last race was for auditor in 2010 when he lost to Tom Wagner, the Republican in the office since 1989.
Korn tried to make it in politics in Delaware after not making it in politics on Long Island. He ran for Nassau County executive there in 1989 and lost. His love life landed him on "A Current Affair," a tabloid television show, in an unflattering portrayal in 1992 as a manipulative gold digger. He sued.
Meanwhile, a communications consultant was suing Korn for non-payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills from the political campaign and won. According to court records, Korn was so upset and desperate that he found a bankruptcy lawyer advertising "rush emergency service" in the Nassau County Yellow Pages and filed immediately for bankruptcy protection.
It took years to unwind Korn's financial and legal affairs. As part of the bankruptcy court proceedings, Korn got a settlement over the episode on "A Current Affair" but "no admission of wrongdoing."
The bankruptcy case was closed on Aug. 12, 1999, and six days later, as New Castle County property records show, Korn had a house in Hockessin, ready for a new start.
He ran in the Democratic primary for New Castle County in 2004 to hardly any notice, not with Chris Coons and Sherry Freebery slugging it out, and lost a race for state representative in 2006 before his campaign for auditor.
Korn has also done political consulting as well as lobbying, mostly for labor unions. He also did some lobbying on prison issues, though, before the county police provided him with a way to get a firsthand look from the inside.
What a coincidence.