Posted: March 2, 2006


The pearl of the Oyster Eat

State Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr. is a hard man to trick -- something the Bridgeville Democrat has proved since his first day in the Delaware legislature in 1973.

As a rookie, Adams was confronted with a roaring political slugfest over the election for president pro tem, the Senate's leading position. The motions and counter-motions were flying in dizzying confusion, and by the time the roll was called, the senators had to vote on something like a motion to table the motion to table the motion.

Alphabetically Adams was the first to vote, but he was up to it. He had figured out that what he had to do was vote "yes" if the last motion came from a fellow Democrat and "no" if it came from a Republican.

It was an impressive first step in a political run that has lasted 34 years and made Adams the president pro tem himself and a political icon in Sussex County.

Probably it was only a matter of time before somebody figured out that a name as notable as Adams should be married to one of the most celebrated events in Sussex County -- the annual Oyster Eat, sponsored by the Georgetown Fire Company, a men-only bacchanalia with steamers and beer and sawdust on the floor and a thousand tickets sold.

That time was Friday, and that somebody was Bob Ricker, Georgetown's ex-mayor and former fire chief, who came up with the idea of dedicating the 69th annual Oyster Eat to Adams, the only time ever it has been dedicated.

Ricker's Oyster Eat assignment was designing the souvenir t-shirts and caps. He was waiting for inspiration to strike when Adams happened to return a call that Ricker, who is also a state fire commissioner, had made to talk about fire service business.

Aha! Ricker decided he would put a drawing of Adams on the t-shirts, and then he thought, why not dedicate the event? The idea took off from there.

Incredibly the firefighters kept it secret from the wily Adams, who knows about all there is to know in Sussex County. "Springing a surprise on Mr. Adams is damn near magic," Ricker said.

The firefighters lured Adams to the fire hall early by pretending they wanted him for a ribbon-cutting ceremony before the Oyster Eat. There was no ribbon to cut, but there were about 200 firefighters, a host of fellow legislators and Adams' family members, including women, all thunderously applauding when he walked in.

"I heard all this applause, and I moved aside, because I thought I was standing in front of somebody," Adams said.

Then he realized the celebration was for him. As decorated as Adams has been in his political life, this time he was overwhelmed. "It really got to me. It's going to be one of the most special nights in my life. I couldn't talk very well. I had the tears running, and I couldn't stop myself," he said.

Adams is 77, and his term is up this year. He has not said much about the speculation that he might retire, but Sussex County does not seem ready to let him go yet -- "I'd like to see him stay in office," Ricker said -- and it looks as though he will listen.

"I'm still running until something happens that will change my mind," Adams said.

Let tens of thousands voices bloom

The Republicans do not have much of a voice in New Castle County government. The county executive is a Democrat, the council president is a Democrat, the four row officers are Democrats, and even the two Republicans on the 13-member council used to be Democrats.

What is a party to do when it wants to paint County Executive Christopher A. Coons as a vicious tax hiker (even though Coons is still three weeks away from presenting his next budget)?

"Robo-calls," laughed James F. Paoli, the New Castle County Democratic chair.

The voice of Kelly L. Gates, the New Castle County Republican chair, has gone out on tens of thousands of recorded telephone messages to Democratic, Republican and independent voters throughout the county.

Robo-Gates warns that Coons has proposed a 60 percent property-tax hike (although he has not, or at least not yet.) "The goal is to affect the budget," the real Gates said.

"How desperate," Paoli said.