Posted: Dec. 13, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The showdown over the state Senate vote for the president pro tem on Tuesday could turn on whether Dave Sokola is a stand-up guy. Not figuratively, but literally.

Sokola, an athletic 55-year-old who is partial to soccer, skiing and cycling, propelled himself into needing hip surgery last Thursday, five days before the Senate assembles for a special session.

The purpose of the session -- a retention vote on Vice Chancellor Leo Strine Jr. -- is so humdrum that Sokola should be able to skip going to Dover, but this is no routine special session, not with its timing forcing an early election for the chamber's ranking member in the 2011-2012 term.

The president pro tem runs the place. The pro tem has the last word on committee assignments, staff, payroll, parking places and an all-around ability to make life fair or miserable.

It has been miserable enough under the me-first-among-equals rule of Tony DeLuca for Mike Katz conceivably to round up the votes to topple him.

The 21-member Senate has 14 Democrats and seven Republicans. It is close to ironclad for the majority caucus to stick together to elect the pro tem, but maybe not this time. If Katz can pull enough votes away from DeLuca among their fellow Democrats and make common cause with the Republicans, there could be a new pro tem.

Sokola is one of the Democrats backing Katz. In a political shootout as charged as this one challenging the pro tem, every vote really, really counts.

As a stand-up guy figuratively? No problem. Sokola is open about declaring he is with Katz. As a stand-up guy literally? The hip is a problem.

"I'm not sure I'm going to be allowed to go. I still get tired quick. That may be a long day," Sokola said Monday. "I wouldn't completely rule it out, and if I can be there, I'll be there."

Sokola has sided with Katz out of a conviction that Katz would institute more openness and accountability. Even though the Delaware General Assembly voted to impose more open government on itself in its last term -- prodded into it largely by Karen Peterson, another Senate Democrat backing Katz -- the policy and the practice are not necessarily one and the same.

For example, Sokola has questions about DeLuca's one-man decision on a $50,000 doorway project for the pro tem's office, whether or not it could be justified for privacy, security or whatever.

"The process was violated. What straw breaks the camel's back, I don't know," Sokola said.

"The openness and transparency, I don't think Tony quite gets it yet. I like Tony, he's our best negotiator, but we have 14 people, we're all potential leaders."

Sokola has been through a leadership fight before. He was there in the 1990s when the Democratic caucus temporarily dumped Tom Sharp as majority leader to protest his heavy-handedness and gave him a chance to think about it.

"I did the motion to take Sharp out, and I supported him coming back," Sokola said. "If Tony survives this, he's got to get the message."

Sokola is getting around with a walker, but another setback for him is some unexpected aftereffects from anesthesia.

It should be noted that Katz by profession is an anesthesiologist, and Sokola still wants to vote for him. What a stand-up guy.