Posted: Oct. 22, 2004


Spot cleaning

A Republican radio spot that Christopher A. Coons, the Democratic candidate for New Castle County executive, calls a "groundless, negative, personal attack" has been pulled from the airwaves, but party officials say they took it down only because its scheduled run was over.

Coons flared up about the spot Thursday during a debate on WDEL 1150 AM radio with Christopher J. Castagno, his Republican opponent.

"The party under whose banner he's running has chosen to run groundless, negative, personal attacks ads that are untruthful. I think most folks in Delaware, in the feedback I'm getting, don't like this," Coons said. "If they wanted to live in New Jersey and have a New Jersey political climate, they would have moved there."

The spot characterizes Coons as complicit in a culture of corruption in county government -- quite contrary to Coons' campaign in which he sees himself as a corruption buster, a County Council president who stood up to the tainted Gordon administration and took out Sherry L. Freebery, the chief aide, in the Democratic primary for county executive.

The spot, which was authorized by the Delaware Republican Party, begins with spooky, Halloween-type music and then declares: "Chris Coons wants the county's top job while scandal and corruption swirl all around him. He doesn't think he's to blame, even though Chris Coons was council president. . . . Chris Coons, deflecting all the blame while asking for a promotion."

As candidates are supposed to do, Castagno sidestepped comment about the radio spot during the WDEL debate. Parties do the dirty work so the candidates do not have to. Castagno professed clean hands as he said the advertising from his own campaign has been positive, and he noted that the party's spot no longer was running.

The Republican Party was more than willing to take the heat. "We didn't expect him [Coons] to be happy about the ad," said David A. Crossan, the Republicans' executive director.

The radio spot played for about a week, as it was scheduled to do, Crossan said. It has been replaced with a new one that is unlikely to make Coons any happier.

The spooky music returns, and the voiceover says: "It's time to clean up county government. With all the scandal and corruption surrounding Chris Coons, it's no wonder he wasn't able to clean up the mess. . . ."

DeMatteis moves on

Claire M. DeMatteis, a familiar figure in Delaware politics, has left her job as counsel to U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to go into private practice with a major Philadelphia law firm with a Wilmington office.

After 10 years with Biden's office, DeMatteis will be the director of the Delaware operation for the firm of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, a practice that has been around since 1926 and currently has about 140 lawyers. She also will be in charge of government affairs for Delaware and Washington, D.C.

DeMatteis is gone, but . . . "You never leave Joe Biden," she said.

DeMatteis has seen Delaware politics from a lot of angles. While in college in the mid-1980s, she worked for state Sen. Thomas B. Sharp, a Democrat, in the General Assembly and later became a reporter for WBOC-TV 16.

When DeMatteis switched to staff work, she did it in a way that can happen only in Delaware, in the cozy confines of state politics. She changed parties without penalty, first signing on with U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican, while he was governor, and then going with Biden, a Democrat.

It is unlikely DeMatteis is finished with politics yet. With her new responsibilities, she looks like a gold mine for campaign contributions.

Dispatch from Afghanistan #4

Before the Taliban, there were the Soviets. They invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and stayed for about a decade. The country needs a massive recovery, and Richard S. Gebelein, the Superior Court judge serving there as a colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, says it is happening.

Gebelein, whose e-mail address is, wrote to Grapevine:

"The country has been truly devastated. The Soviets destroyed methodically anything that could be of use to the rebels. That means forests were destroyed, orchards were uprooted, irrigation systems were filled in or destroyed, agricultural land was mined with anti-personnel devices, and most buildings were destroyed unless under direct control. Aqueducts built by the Macedonians hundreds of years ago were blown up.  

"The Afghan people are a hard-working and tough people. Over history no one has truly conquered this land. They are rebuilding their country. It will take years, just as it took decades to destroy so much of it. Right now they are very appreciative of our efforts here. They thank us for helping them to overthrow the Taliban, and they thank us for staying here and helping maintain a peace.  

"Our forces here are about 20 percent as many as the Soviets had. They include soldiers from 37 nations. We are not here as occupiers but as friends, and the people seem to know that. Of course, there remain some troublemakers, small groups of Taliban extremists and other groups of Al Qaeda terrorists who see us as the enemy. They try to disrupt the peace and the progress that is being made.

"The Afghan government will have to keep the confidence of the people as it begins to make new laws and develop new institutions to replace those that were destroyed. We are playing a role in that process and hopefully will continue to do so until we are no longer needed.

"Women went to the polls in great numbers to vote in the presidential election. They did this in spite of some intimidation from extreme fundamentalist groups who threatened to retaliate if they did. It is heartening as well to see young girls walking to school in Kabul and in the small towns. The Taliban had prevented this for more than 6 years."