Posted: Jan. 11, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The political gods must have been in fine form with their mischief-making, when the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce decided Frank Biondi should win the Marvel Cup, the prestigious award it gives out each year.

Frank Biondi. Frank Biondi? Hmmm, Frank Biondi. It has been a while, since the days when nothing seemed to happen in Delaware without Biondi looming large in it.

Formally he was O. Francis Biondi, a lawyer who was one of the most skillful Democratic powerbrokers of his day, a celebrated boundary-shifter who rose from modest beginnings to be welcome in corporate boardrooms and political back rooms, executive suites and labor union halls, his counsel trusted by Democrats and Republicans.

Biondi was presented with the Josiah Marvel Cup, named for the state chamber's first president in 1913, on Monday during the business association's annual dinner attended by about 900 people at the Wilmington Riverfront.

"The only three words I have to say -- only in Delaware," Biondi told the  crowd.

This Marvel Cup award was really something to marvel at.

How fascinating that the recognition for Biondi and his civic contributions should come now, some 15 years after he retired from a law practice that lasted for more than 40 years, unless the political gods were up to something, and it sure looks like they were.

How ironic that Biondi in one of his early incarnations was the city solicitor, all the way back in 1968, which just happened to be the last time the Wilmington streets were embarrassingly the object of national scorn.

In those days, the reason was that Charlie Terry, the Democratic governor, had sent the National Guard into the city because of the rioting when Martin Luther King was shot, and he refused to pull it out, not even with order restored and John Babiarz, the Democratic mayor who was Biondi's boss, pleading for the troops to go.

It turned out to be the longest military occupation of an American city since the Civil War, and journalists came from all over to see for themselves and report about it with unbridled derision. The Guard stayed until Terry left office in January 1969, after he lost re-election.

In these days, the reason is the lethal violence that has Wilmington slammed as "Murder Town."

Too much law and order then. Not enough law and order now.

How ironic that Biondi was also the co-chair of a commission in the late 1970s under Pete du Pont, the Republican governor, to study the potential efficiencies of merging Wilmington and New Castle County into a metro government with, say, a single police force.

All these years later, there is talk in the legislature about curtailing the city's policing authority, and the Marvel Cup award was made on the very day Wilmington figured it had better get cracking and bring in Chuck Ramsey, the former police commissioner in Philadelphia, as a consultant, or it could find itself with something like a metro police force.

More than anything else, Biondi is remembered as a prime architect of the Financial Center Development Act, the landmark law that was passed in 1981 under du Pont and brought a glorious influx of banks here.

It was the keystone to the resurrection of the state's economy after a dismal stretch, when Hercules -- remember Hercules? -- threatened to leave, Chrysler -- remember Chrysler? -- was in trouble, and DuPont's CEO blasted the state's high taxes as anti-business. Remember . . . oh, forget it.

Nathan Hayward, who was du Pont's economic development director, once described the state's woebegone economy before its transformation as "kind of a negative pinata -- blindfolded, anywhere you hit, it was a negative."

It kind of is again. DuPont is melting into something else, Chemours could be here today and gone tomorrow, and Fisker never came.

The state has gone full circle. Maybe there was meaning in the state chamber's selection of Frank Biondi for the Marvel Cup.

"We did it before," Rich Heffron, the state chamber's president, said in videotaped remarks. "We can get Delaware back to where we were."

Whether or not the state chamber meant to send a message, the political gods made sure it did.