Posted: Jan. 29, 2013
THE HALF-MILLION DOLLAR MEN
By Celia Cohen
A legislative salary? About $44,000 a year. The cost of one tumultuous legislative race? Upwards of $500,000. A legislative vote? It must be priceless.
Otherwise, what happened in a race for state senator would make no sense at all.
Greg Lavelle and Mike Katz became the first half-million dollar men in the history of the Delaware General Assembly, when they combined to spend that much in the 2012 election.
It was a venomous race, fought in the suburban neighborhoods and secluded estates of the 4th Senate District, which spills across the northern arc of New Castle County from Brandywine Hundred through Chateau Country and Hockessin to Pike Creek Valley.
There was such an infernal onslaught of incendiary campaign literature, it all but left scorch marks on people's mailboxes.
Lavelle won to move across Legislative Hall from the House of Representatives, where he was the Republican minority leader, and oust Katz, a one-term Democrat, from the Senate. Lavelle also morphed into the Senate's Republican minority whip.
"I'm certainly happy it's over and hope I don't have to do it again," Lavelle said.
From the outset, this race was expected to cost a lot, a sitting state senator challenged by a sitting state representative, not to mention Katz is a doctor and Lavelle is the managing director of a boutique investment firm.
Still, they obliterated previous spending records for the legislature here. The evidence is available in the candidates' 2012 campaign finance reports, the final round of which was due in the state election commissioner's office last week.
Over the course of the election year, Lavelle spent $236,000 and Katz spent $301,000 for a combined total of $537,000, a whopping sum that contributions alone could not accommodate and required their personal infusions.
Lavelle wound up loaning his campaign $10,000, a trifle next to what Katz did. Katz put almost $99,000 of his own money into his candidacy, even though he already owed himself $73,000 from his last race in 2008.
Katz spent nearly as much as Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor who was re-elected. Denn's expenditures statewide were $307,000.
The spend-fest by Lavelle and Katz dwarfed the other tense race for state senator between Ernie Lopez and Andy Staton for an open seat in Sussex County.
Lopez and Staton combined to spend $302,000 -- and they had primaries.
Just like the race upstate, the Democratic loser outspent the Republican winner. Lopez, the Republican candidate who won and went to the Senate, spent $124,000. Staton, the Democratic candidate who lost, spent $178,000. Neither of them made loans to their campaigns.
Before this election season, the record for a legislative race was nearly $375,000. It was set in 2008, and Katz was involved. He won his lone Senate term by defeating John Clatworthy, the Republican candidate, for an open seat.
"Unfortunately it takes a lot of money," said Katz, who regards it as a commitment to public service.
Katz has not ruled out another try for state senator. He said he has already been approached about it, as well as about possibly running statewide.
So stand by. It takes a big campaign kitty to run against Katz.