Posted: Oct. 25, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Republican Michael J. Ramone was not exactly "Swift Boated." It was more like being "Flower Shopped."

Ramone was zapped by a campaign mailer from state Sen. David P. Sokola, his Democratic opponent, in a Pike Creek Valley contest that is probably the most competitive legislative race in the state.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth hit John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, where he lived by going after his reputation as a war hero. Ditto Sokola, whose campaign piece warns there is less than meets the eye to Ramone's pride in his business record, first with a chain called Ramone's Flower Shoppes he later sold and now with swimming and fitness enterprises.

The mailer is escalating tensions in a campaign rematch that has Sokola, a legislator since 1990, trying to fend off Ramone, who came within 277 votes of ousting him four years ago.

Sokola clearly has drawn political blood. Since the campaign literature arrived in mailboxes last week, Ramone has held a press conference, put out a news release and gone on a sympathetic talk-radio show on WDEL to defend himself.

The mailer says in big, bold letters: What State Senate candidate MIKE RAMONE won't tell you about his "business experience" . . . Mike Ramone managed his business so poorly, he was sued five times for failure to pay his debts . . . Now Ramone says he'll use his "business experience" to help balance the state's budget . . . Who is he kidding?

The lawsuits filed against Ramone are listed in footnotes, and they are real cases, as Ramone himself acknowledges, but he says he is not trying to kid anybody.

He says his flower business went up in smoke -- literally -- when a lightning strike in 1992 in Wilmington burned down his wholesale operation, taking his income and inventory with it. The lawsuits came about while he was trying to dig himself out, which he eventually did.

The Swift-Boat truth about campaign pieces is they have about the same credibility as political cartoons -- and maybe less subtlety. Voters need to read them at their own risk.

Not that Ramone has been above some hyperbole of his own, suggesting in one of his mailers there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the Christina School District's mass layoff of teachers and Sokola's vote for budget bills that raised his Senate salary.

It was the old legislative-pay ploy, which has been around since about the Continental Congress. Ramone's mailer, showing stacks of dollar bills labeled "Dave Sokola's pay," reads: While our schools had no money for teachers, David Sokola raised his own pay 15 percent.

Actually, Sokola could have voted to cut his legislative paycheck from $42,000 a year to zero along with every other lawmaker's, and Christina still would be suffering from its own bungled finances.

More than Mike Ramone, his wife Lisa was infuriated that Sokola's political literature exploited their business setbacks. "We put the pieces of our lives back together from nothing," she said, calling the mailer "a little itty-bitty piece of adversity, and it sucks."

Sokola's flier did not stick simply to decade-old lawsuits. It also painted Ramone as being on the wrong side of the Court of Chancery, the state's revered business forum, by quoting from an opinion written earlier this year by Vice Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr., calling Ramone's business practices "leisurely and erratic" and "lackadaisical."

Believe it or not, Strine's words come from a case that Ramone won. Ramone went to court when a gentleman's agreement he had to run a swimming program in Newark unraveled, and he argued it would be unfair if the pool were leased to his principal competitor. Strine sided with Ramone but only after noting his laid-back approach contributed to the deal's collapse.

As for Ramone's style being "leisurely and erratic" and "lackadaisical," Sokola might be sorry he said so. It sounds like a perfect fit for the Delaware General Assembly.

# # #

Every red-blooded American male driving along Delaware's highways seems to want to know -- who is that Christine O'Donnell pictured on those political road signs?

Apparently no one was paying attention when she was just another printed line on a primary ballot.

O'Donnell was a surprise candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, coming out of nowhere at the filing deadline to crowd the field for what is expected to be nothing more than a booby prize -- the right to challenge first-term Democrat Thomas R. Carper, who has spent 30 years in statewide office as a treasurer, congressman, governor and senator.

O'Donnell ran as an uncompromising anti-abortion rights candidate and barely campaigned. She polled 17 percent of the vote on Primary Day, a distant third behind Jan C. Ting at 43 percent and Michael D. Protack at 40 percent.

Her candidacy did have the effect of saving the Republican establishment from having its endorsed candidate lose. Protack has been a perennial political outlier, but not any more. By 2008, the Republicans may look in the mirror and see staring back at them the Party of Protack.

O'Donnell was supposed to disappear after the primary, but she reinvented herself as a write-in candidate and put up all those eye-candy signs. She may not be much of a political hazard to anyone, but she may have found her niche as a driving hazard.