Posted: Dec. 14, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

State Sen. Harris B. McDowell III should have seen the vote coming.

McDowell, a Wilmington Democrat with 30 years in Legislative Hall, was ousted by his caucus mates as the Senate majority leader. In a secret ballot Tuesday, he was replaced by state Sen. Anthony J. DeLuca, whose old job as majority whip went to state Sen. Patricia M. Blevins.

State Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., serenely floating above it all, will remain as the president pro tem, the most powerful post in the chamber, when the new General Assembly convenes Tuesday, Jan. 9, in Dover.

McDowell was never more than a majority leader of convenience. In a Democratic leadership fight four years ago, he was the swing vote in the 13-member caucus to break what was otherwise a six-to-six stalemate between Adams and Blevins for president pro tem.

Blevins' backers thought McDowell was with them, but Adams' camp peeled McDowell away with a deal that made Adams the president pro tem and McDowell the majority leader. DeLuca, who was aligned with Adams and wanted to be the majority leader, settled for majority whip.

The Adams-McDowell-DeLuca lineup stayed intact through the last two-year legislative session, but really, McDowell was on borrowed time. Dover is the Grudge-Holding Capital of the World, and there was not a chance that Blevins' side would forget or forgive what McDowell had done.

A crack in McDowell's stature came with the 2006 election. People in leadership are supposed to be helping other candidates get elected, but in McDowell's case, the Senate Democrats had to rally 'round and save his seat in a primary against a city councilman and two others.

Ask state Sen. Steven H. Amick what it means. He was the Republican minority leader when he needed help for his 2002 campaign, and thereafter he became the former minority leader.

While McDowell was scrambling to win, Blevins not only was coasting to her own re-election but also working on other legislative races -- in other words, acting the way someone in leadership is supposed to act.

"That does weigh on some of the caucus' mind," DeLuca said.

The time had come for DeLuca to go after the majority leader's job that he wanted four years ago and for Blevins to slip into the majority whip's slot behind him. It was more of an understanding than a conspiracy.

"I don't know of anybody who campaigned for anything -- including me," DeLuca said. "Did I wink and nod and kind of know what's going on? Well, yeh. When you're the whip, you do that for a living."

There does not seem to be any lingering fallout from Blevins' old challenge to Adams. "We're a close-knit caucus," Blevins said.

Blevins' rise to leadership was foreshadowed by what happened last month with the House Democrats, who elevated state Rep. Helene M. Keeley to minority whip after she did her bit to aid other legislative candidates.

While the Democratic leadership shuffle made obvious beneficiaries out of DeLuca, Blevins and Keeley, there was also a secret winner with tentacles into the legislature. Labor Secretary Thomas B. Sharp, once a feared Senate Democratic president pro tem, employs both DeLuca and Keeley in his department.

Cats only have nine lives. Vampires can be stopped with a stake through the heart. It does not seem that Tom Sharp ever will go away.

# # #

If there was an award for constituent service, state Rep. Peter C. Schwartzkopf would have retired it.

Schwartzkopf, a three-term Democrat from Rehoboth Beach, is recuperating in Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia after donating a kidney to a friend and neighbor.

Pete Schwartzkopf and his wife Carol live across the street from dentist Blair Jones and his wife Missy. The Joneses moved to the neighborhood about 15 years ago, and the couples barely had introduced themselves when Carol had one of those middle-of-the-night tooth emergencies. Blair came to the rescue, and the families have been friends since.

When Missy's kidneys began to fail, as her father's had before her, Pete had himself tested and found he was a match to be a donor.

The surgery was Tuesday. Although no one thought the procedure would be easy, it turned out to be more of an ordeal than expected. The doctor had a difficult time extracting Pete's kidney.

The Schwartzkopfs blamed the gun belt. Pete was a state trooper for 18 years, all of it spent with a gun strapped to his right hip, constricting the area.

Pete is recovering, his kidney is working for Missy, and as medicated and groggy as he was, he got on his cell phone Wednesday with a message to urge people to sign up to be organ donors -- easy enough to do by going to the Delaware Motor Vehicle Division's Web site.

"Talk it over with your family. Give the gift of life," he said.

Pete and Missy both hope to be out of the hospital by the weekend. As Carol Schwartzkopf put it, "This is a Christmas miracle."