Posted: Oct. 19, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Leave it to Sussex County to blow up its own stereotype and outpace the rest of Delaware.

Sussex County, the home of the Tea Party diehards. Sussex County, where a good-ole-boy legislator once defined a Saturday Night Special as a hot woman and a six-pack of beer. Sussex County, where Christine O'Donnell goes to be somebody.

The southernmost, not to mention the conservative-most of the three counties, is the place where the gay candidates are.

Two of them, running for legislative seats, came north Thursday evening for a joint fund-raiser in Wilmington. Both are Democrats, so it was only fitting their journey upstate from Sussex, which is so Republican red, landed them not just in the deeply Democratic blue city, but at the seafood place called the Deep Blue Bar & Grill.

The event, which appeared to draw as many as 50 people, was for Andy Staton, a candidate for the state Senate with a real estate business in Rehoboth Beach, and Marie Mayor, a candidate for the House of Representatives with a lavender farm near Milton.

In addition to Staton and Mayor, the Sussex ballot will have John Brady, a Lewes lawyer who is practically a political institution in the county.

When Brady won countywide as a Republican in 2000 to become the register in chancery, it made him the 220th acknowledged gay elected official in the country. He was also elected the recorder of deeds twice, lost for state insurance commissioner, switched his party to Democratic, and lost re-election as recorder of deeds in 2010. Now he is running as a Democrat for clerk of the peace.

"People saw how much fun I had for 10 years, and they wanted to join me," Brady quipped.

Brady's latest campaign is born of an irony a gay candidate can love. The county needs a new clerk of the peace because the current officeholder, a Republican, fled from performing civil unions.

As rookie legislative candidates, Staton and Mayor are running for open offices, too, in new seats created by redistricting with overlapping constituencies. Staton is in the 6th Senate District, taking in Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Milton, and Mayor is in the 20th House District, encompassing Lewes and Milton.

Staton and Mayor have already proven themselves by winning primaries against more established politicians. Staton defeated Bob Frederick, a past mayor of Dewey Beach, in a three-way race, and Mayor beat Lynn Rogers, a former Sussex County councilman, also in a three-way race.

It was a prime reason they were hosted at a fund-raiser upstate by Patti Blevins, the Senate's Democratic majority leader from Elsmere, and Pete Schwartzkopf, the House's Democratic majority leader from Rehoboth Beach.

"They're people who want to run and be part of the community and happen to be gay. You look at them and see what they can bring to the table," Schwartzkopf said.

Granted, Staton and Mayor are running in eastern Sussex, which is not as much of a conservative hotbed as western Sussex, but it is still Sussex, which delivered exactly two votes last year in favor of civil unions, both cast by legislators whose districts included gay-friendly Rehoboth Beach.

One vote came from Schwartzkopf and the other from George Bunting, a Democratic senator from Bethany Beach, and it is probably not a coincidence that Bunting decided not to run for re-election since casting that vote, particularly after Rehoboth Beach was carved out of his district to become part of the new 6th district, where Staton is.

Although the General Assembly's Democratic majority drew the new Sussex districts to give the party a fighting chance, it should be remembered in the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 6 that Democratic legislators are the exception in this county, not the rule. The edge has to go to the Republican candidates.

Staton is running against Ernie Lopez, a Lewes Republican who works for the University of Delaware, and also a Libertarian candidate. Mayor is running against Steve Smyk, a Milton Republican who is a retired state trooper.

In the race for clerk of the peace, Brady is opposed by Brooks Witzke, a Laurel Republican who works in public safety, and also by a Libertarian candidate.

Whatever happens, there has never been a ballot anywhere in Delaware like the one some Sussex voters will see in eight exclusive election districts. In a political and geographical confluence, the voting machines there will carry the names of Brady, Staton and Mayor.

As Brady himself put it, "There are about a half-dozen election districts in the state that could elect three individuals who are openly gay. All of those election districts are in Sussex County. Who would have thought?"