Posted: Dec. 8, 2005
THE DECORUM AFTER THE STORM
By Celia Cohen
Carl C. Danberg brought a decorous end to a very messy shakeup in Delaware politics when he took his oath as attorney general Thursday in a sane and sensible ceremony in the Kent County Courthouse in Dover.
Danberg, mild-mannered and trustworthy, did not ask to be the mop-up man, but he was in the right place at the right time when one really was needed.
It would have been hard to dream up anyone better, a straight arrow who comes with the personal motto he learned by watching his father, "If something needs to be done, you do it."
Danberg will be asked to cool the controversial deal-making that saw M. Jane Brady, the three-term Republican attorney general, accept a judgeship and generate tumultuous speculation that Gov. Ruth Ann Minner would appoint fellow Democrat Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, the senator's son, to fill the vacancy so he could run as the incumbent next year.
Biden ultimately wanted no part of it, so fate found Carl Danberg. He was the chief deputy attorney general hired by Brady, he was a Democrat whom the governor knew because he had been part of her administration as a senior aide to the prison commissioner, and he was a former campaign staffer for U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.
No one could dream all that up.
The Republicans tried to wing Danberg as soon as Minner said she would appoint him, complaining he was politicizing the office because in taking himself out of the running for it, he said he would support Beau Biden.
They got no traction with it, not against someone like Danberg. Anyway, it was their own fault the office was open, and they still have no candidate for it. Whom did they think Minner would appoint, William Swain Lee?
Danberg is only the second person ever appointed the state's attorney general since the post was made an elected office, instead of an appointed one, in the Constitution of 1897.
The circumstances were even somewhat similar. Republican Daniel J. Layton was elected attorney general in 1932, and the next year Republican Gov. C. Douglass Buck made him a judge, choosing him for chief justice. The governor named P. Warren Green as attorney general to replace him.
Even though there were still three years to go in Layton's term, Green's appointment lasted only until the next election in 1934, when he ran and won a full four-year term. Ever since then, the attorney general has been elected in the off-year, instead of the presidential year.
As part of Danberg's peacemaking installation ceremony, the people who caused it both took part in the courtroom packed with more than 100 well-wishers.
Brady, black-robed in her second day as a judge, swore him in, praising Danberg as an "excellent choice," and Minner gave a short speech, taking the poetic license as politicians will to insist, "I tell you, the first person I considered was Carl Danberg."
Beau Biden was not there. It appears that he and Danberg are going to stay out of each other's way, not only for now but if Biden is elected. Danberg still is talking about following a plan he had to go into private practice when Brady's term -- now his term -- ends.
Danberg, 41, is from Newark, and the ceremony had a Newark flavor to it, even if it was held in the state capital in the Kent County Courthouse -- his choice because it was the same courtroom where he was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1992 and because he was assuming a statewide office.
The master of ceremonies was Richard A. DiLiberto Jr., the Delaware Trial Lawyers Association president and a former state representative from the Newark area.
One of the speakers was James R. Soles, a Danberg neighbor who also was his political science professor at the University of Delaware. It was Soles' second appearance at an oath-taking in two days, because he also gave remarks Wednesday for Brady, another former student.
If anyone doubted Danberg's loyalty or the workings of his inner compass, it would have been dispelled by the final speaker -- Corrections Commissioner Stanley W. Taylor Jr., his old boss now under fire over prison health care.
Danberg said to him, "You are without a doubt the most morally upright man I have ever worked for. You are a model of state service, and I will do my best to emulate you."
Danberg wittily recognized the oddity of the circumstances that made him the attorney general. "Normally a ceremony of this type would start with a thank you to the voters. This time it won't work," he quipped.
No, not this time. But Danberg comes from a political family, and if asked, he will acknowledge that he used to think about running for office himself when he worked for Joe Biden.
Danberg has 13 months as attorney general to catch the voters' attention, and then who knows?