Posted: Nov. 29, 2010
By Celia Cohen
The talk around Legislative Hall is about Tony DeLuca's door, a remodeling project that is costing nearly $50,000 for the office of the Senate's Democratic president pro tem.
It is a lot of money for a door. Home Depot has them for 19 bucks, installation not included.
Not to mention this is the day of the perpetual budget squeeze, and $50,000 can look to a state worker like another year in the job.
The project is not exactly a new door, but a new design for entering this corner office suite on the first floor. DeLuca did not like the old setup, which he acquired from Thurman Adams, the previous occupant who died in June 2009.
In the old design, the suite had two offices, an outer office where a secretary was located and then the pro tem's personal office immediately to the right through a side door. From the hallway, people could glance directly inside the personal office to see who was in.
There was nothing to keep people from spotting the pro tem and slipping in. Far be it for a public figure not to have privacy.
The office was good enough for Adams, it was good enough for Tom Sharp, it was good enough for Richard Cordrey, it was good enough for J. Donald Isaacs, all preceding Democratic pro tems, and it was good enough for Reynolds du Pont, who is believed to have designed the office when he was the Republican pro tem, going back to the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"It's good enough for me, too. It will be good enough for whoever comes next," said DeLuca.
He spoke with the confidence of a man who knows the construction is so far along, it would cost more to put it back the way it was.
In the new design, the office suite is being expanded by appropriating a bathroom that used to be next door. The bathroom area was joined to the pro tem's suite by blowing a hole in the wall.
From now on, people will enter through what used to be the bathroom door and make a right to go into the outer office, which is being enlarged. A secretary at a desk will guard the admission to the pro tem's personal office, now safely away from prying eyes.
It is not just that DeLuca wanted a new door. It is that he did it without asking.
The practice has been that work on Legislative Hall in Dover gets approved by Legislative Council, a governing committee of the legislative leadership, majority and minority, from both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
"I thought it should have gone through Legislative Council at the least," said Gary Simpson, the Senate's Republican minority leader who is a member. "Anytime that walls are taken down, it should at least come through some sort of authority, rather than have one party have the authority."
DeLuca did not involve Legislative Council, because he did not think that work on the pro tem's office was any of the House's business. "This is our end. This is the Senate end," he said.
DeLuca got the work done by going through the Office of Management & Budget on the executive side. The project was estimated to cost $46,600 and also includes some renovations to the Controller General's Office on the basement floor directly below. It was paid out of unallocated money set aside for minor capital improvements.
"We maintain that building. It's not at all unusual. I don't need a note from Legislative Council. It never crossed my mind," said Ann Visalli, the director of the Office of Management & Budget.
"People were just walking into that office. It was like a train station."
From DeLuca's perspective, the project was needed for security. Like Osama bin Laden would not rest until someone brought him the head of the president pro tem.
Besides, people inside Legislative Hall have registered at the entrance with Capitol Police and passed through a metal detector.
Security was not this much of an issue even back in the days of the protest marches in the 1960s, like the time a mass of demonstrators crowded into Legislative Hall with air mattresses and vowed to stay, only to be driven out by state troopers with nightsticks. Delaware State students came the next day in a sympathy march but retreated from a show of force of troopers with police dogs.
Granted, a new door is better than police dogs.