Posted: Dec. 20, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Strange things have crawled out of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's nomination pool this year.

The prospect of no more elections for the second-term Democrat has let Minner be Minner, the good-old-pol governor. She harpooned some old caucus mates from her state Senate days out of retirement without being asked -- making Richard S. Cordrey a $138,600-a-year finance secretary and Thomas B. Sharp a $111,700-a-year labor secretary.

Not done yet, Minner chummed the depths with a judgeship that M. Jane Brady wanted, taking the attorney general's post away from the Republicans and all but giving it to Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III. If the governor had her way, she probably would have given it, but Biden was not taking.

Delawareans could be forgiven if they have the urge to peek through their fingers, like kids at a scary movie, as they ponder what will emerge from the nomination pool to fill the vacancy coming Feb. 1 when Transportation Secretary Nathan Hayward III departs to deal with prostate cancer.

Hayward leaves behind a Cabinet post that even on good days is up to its asphalt with problems, and these are not good days. There are drivers sick of congestion, communities that do not want new roads built nearby, demanding legislators who need potholes filled, and the winter weather with its ever-present threat of snow, not to mention a projected shortfall of $2.7 billion over the next six years for highway construction.

State Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Bridgeville Democrat who is the president pro tem, wonders why anyone would want the job. "I would probably tell the next secretary the same thing I tell the judges for Family Court, that I'm not sure I'm doing you a favor by confirming you," he said.

Even so, there is a name being pressed upon the governor, and it belongs to state Sen. David B. McBride, a 63-year-old Democrat whose district stretches from Newport and Wilmington Manor to Bear. As appointments go, McBride would give people a reason to cover their eyes.

"Under normal circumstances this would be a joke. But who knows?" one appalled Democratic legislator said.

On paper McBride looks fine -- a master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Delaware and more than 20 years in the Transportation Department before retiring -- but that is on paper.

Around Legislative Hall, he is known as "Worldwide" McBride for his ambitious self-promotion. He is also one of the M&Ms, the middle of the Senate roll call occupied by McBride and fellow Democrats Robert I. Marshall and Harris B. McDowell III, although these M&Ms are said to melt in your hand because the stands they take sometimes do, too.

In a classic case, when Adams was running for president pro tem before the 2003 session, McBride was thought to be supporting Adams while McDowell was supposed to be for state Sen. Patricia M. Blevins. When the maneuvering stopped, McDowell backed Adams and parlayed it into being the majority leader, while McBride went with Blevins and got himself temporarily kicked off the prestigious Joint Finance Committee.

"Dave McBride probably knows the department as well as anybody would. On the finances, you can't deny he's knowledgeable," said state Rep. Roger P. Roy, a Republican who is the go-to guy for transportation matters in the House of Representatives. "But Dave is all over the place. I work very, very well with him. Some people don't."

McBride has been in the General Assembly since 1978, spending a two-year term in the House and then moving to the Senate in 1980. He would be giving up a safe Democratic seat -- no Republican even has run against him since 1986 -- for a job that can be expected to expire when Minner's administration does in three years.

Still, the transportation secretary will be pocketing in the neighborhood of $400,000 in that time. McBride would have to spend about another eight years in the legislature to clear that much, even at his $49,400 annual legislative pay, which includes $39,800 for being a senator and $9,600 for serving on the Joint Finance Committee.

McBride is interested in being the transportation secretary. "It's the governor's pick. I would consider it an honor if the governor would consider me," he said.

McBride's backing appears to be coming mostly from some friends in the labor unions, a key Democratic constituency. Samuel E. Lathem, the Delaware AFL-CIO president, said he wants to meet with the governor to talk about McBride.

"David is more open, more accessible. With David, we don't have the tension we've had with Nathan. Nathan would sit down with us and talk, but then nothing would happen afterwards," Lathem said, adding, "It's the governor's choice. Even if it's not David, at least we want someone we feel comfortable with."

If McBride left the legislature, he would have to be replaced in a special election, but that would be all right with the labor unions, too. The likely Democratic candidate in this overwhelmingly Democratic district would be state Rep. James J. "JJ" Johnson, a past president of a United Auto Workers' local.

"I've heard little rumblings to that effect. I would like to run. I think this would be a golden opportunity," Johnson said. "In all the dealings I've had with Dave McBride, he's a man of his word. With his background he'd be an asset for the state."

Even in this year of political appointments, McBride looks like a stretch. There is no indication from the governor's office that McBride would be the choice, and the Democratic-run Senate, which delivered the confirmations for Cordrey, Sharp and Brady, also has something to say about it.

"That won't happen," Adams said.

Adams may not think he is doing the next transportation secretary a favor, but he clearly is not doing any for Dave McBride.