Posted: March 1, 2005


Note the keynote

Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, who both would not mind getting elected governor in 2008, will not be giving keynote speeches March 18 at the Sussex County Democrats' annual spring dinner.

Neither will Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn, the newest Democrat to join the party's statewide lineup.

Instead, the Sussex Democrats have reserved the opportunity for someone who has not quite risen above the political horizon, inviting Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, the senator's son, to speak at the event in Seaford.

Ask him why he is doing it, and he will downplay it as nothing out of the ordinary, even though the timing is highly suspect. No one can know better than Beau Biden that his father customarily goes to Delaware's southernmost county to kick off campaigns, and no one doubts that Beau Biden is ready for one.

Not that he will talk about running. At the moment, he still is insisting that two plus two merely equals two plus two. "They asked me to do it, and I'm honored to do it. I'd be at the dinner, anyway," Beau Biden said.

If Biden the Younger clings to being circumspect, others are not. As none other than Richard H. Bayard, the Democratic state chairman, put it, "We look to him to be our next attorney general."

There. Someone finally said it. Not that there has been any doubt that both major parties are preparing for a showdown in 2006 between Beau Biden and Attorney General M. Jane Brady, a three-term Republican.

Democrats already are relishing the race as a payback long in coming to Brady, who ran a pit-bull of a campaign against Joe Biden for his U.S. Senate seat in 1990, before she was elected attorney general in 1994.

Republicans already are putting out the word that Beau Biden is a candidate running on his father's name and a thin resume.

As a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse law school, Biden at 36 has spent seven years in the U.S. Justice Department, including five years as a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, and now practices law at the Wilmington firm of Bifferato Gentilotti & Biden. He is also about to make captain in the Delaware Army National Guard.

With all of the buildup, surely his keynote speech counts as a political debut? "People can draw their own conclusions," Biden said.

Gebelein enlists in the drug war 

Even on military duty in Afghanistan, Superior Court Judge Richard S. Gebelein finds himself working against drug trafficking at home. He is part of an effort to combine law enforcement and economic development to deter farmers from growing poppies used in the opium/heroin trade. 

In a sense, the assignment is a return to Gebelein’s own past. Before he became a judge in 1984, he was an attorney general, elected to a single four-year term as a Republican in 1978. 

Gebelein left in August for what is expected to be a yearlong tour as an army colonel in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. In e-mail to Delaware Grapevine from his e-address at, he described some of the actions that the coalition forces, with the United Kingdom taking the lead, are employing against the poppy crop. 

“Given recent evidence that Afghan heroin is reaching the East Coast, it might be of interest to Delawareans to learn a little bit about what is going on,” Gebelein wrote. “The facts that I will discuss are public knowledge and not in any respect classified.” 

One problem to overcome was simple economics. “A traditional farmer may make $4 a day through hard work. That same farmer can make $12 a day growing poppies. The farmer cannot usually get credit to buy seed to grow a traditional crop. The opium dealers will lend the farmer money to buy seeds for poppies,” Gebelein wrote. 

There was an effort to buy up the poppy crop, but it did not work. The growers were poor but not stupid. “The farmers quickly realized that by growing more poppies, they could sell both to the government and the opium dealers. Indeed, the area of ground used for poppies increased by 260 percent,” Gebelein wrote. 

Another problem was corruption in the local criminal justice system. “Evidence had a tendency to disappear, and police guards making less than $30 per month were suspect. Likewise, both prosecutors and judges were suspected of collusion,” Gebelein wrote. 

Clearly a new strategy was called for. The U.S. and U.K. pumped several hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development last year into the provinces with the highest poppy production and also retooled the law enforcement. 

“The program hires thousands of local Afghans to work on public projects such as irrigation canals, roads, etc. It makes provinces have better access to markets for legitimate goods. It is coordinated with an eradication program using additional Afghans protected by police to manually destroy poppy fields,” Gebelein wrote. 

“The program also included the creation of a special task force of counter-narcotics police, special saranwali (prosecutors) and special judges selected for their honesty. The task force was given special training and will be involved in the prosecution and trial of mid- to high-level narcotics figures. The group has been called ‘the untouchables.’” 

Furthermore, the Afghan government made clear that provincial governors would be evaluated on eradication efforts, and the chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court issued a Fatwah, or religious decree, against the narcotics trade. 

“That Fatwah is to be posted in every mosque in Afghanistan,” Gebelein wrote. “The strong condemnation of the drug trade by religious leaders is a tremendous factor in this Islamic nation. It provides the counter-narcotics forces a weapon not available in many other narcotic-producing areas.” 

Poppy cultivation is down, but Gebelein believes it is too soon to tell whether the anti-drug efforts will have long-term success. 

“I have enjoyed working with our coalition partners as this strategy has been evolving,” he wrote. “I have also been impressed with the dedication of the counter-narcotics police and other Afghans involved in this effort. I believe that may Afghans now perceive that the opium trade is a real danger to the survival of their nation.”