Posted: March 18, 2006


Bragging rights, Part I 

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not get where he is by letting himself be upstaged, and it was as true as ever Friday morning at the 13th annual St. Patrick's Day Communion Mass & Breakfast in Wilmington.

In a roomful of about 500 Delawareans who had Irish in their blood or wished they had, Joe Biden was the most Irish of them all.

He established it the night before when he was presented with a leadership award by the American Ireland Fund at a black-tie gala in Washington. He also met with Ireland's prime minister, foreign minister and ambassador, who came to celebrate the holiday.

Perhaps most telling of all, Biden accepted his award with a tribute to his mother, who is not simply Jean Biden, as most Delawareans know her, but Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.

He said, "My mother, I believe, is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish, proud on the edge of defiance" -- which is, if not a portrait of what it means to be Irish, a portrait of what it means to be Joe Biden -- "generous to a fault, loyal to the end."

Political, too. The morning of St. Patrick's Day is a command performance for any number of Delaware politicians. It begins at St. Patrick's Church, and then there is a short march up King Street with bagpipes and drums to the Bank of America Building at Rodney Square for breakfast. The event benefits the St. Patrick's Center and its programs for the disadvantaged.

In addition to Biden, the rest of the congressional delegation -- U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper and U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle -- attended, as did Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A. Markell, Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., Mayor James M. Baker and New Castle County Executive Christopher A. Coons. All of them, except for Castle and Wagner, are Democrats, but that has more to say about the state of politics in Delaware than anything else.

If Biden had not claimed the Irish bragging rights, they probably would have gone to New Castle County Sheriff Michael P. Walsh, a Democrat who drew the assignment of performing a little stand-up comedy.

First elected in 1980 and often unopposed since, Walsh joked about how important it was to win the office -- "It wasn't done by the Department of Elections. It was done by WDEL, and I was the 10th caller."

Walsh also had something to say about the quality of life in Wilmington. He noted that someone had died of natural causes the night before, but he told the crowd not to worry.

"There's a thorough investigation going on."

Bragging rights, Part II

State Sen. Charles L. Copeland stepped up to the back line of a volleyball court for a practice serve and sailed the ball off to the right.

What else would you expect from a conservative Republican?

Copeland was one of the Republican starters against the Democrats in a charity game Saturday morning in the Easter Seals Volleyball Challenge, held at the University of Delaware in Newark.

The Republicans -- who naturally were wearing t-shirts colored Republican red -- puckishly named their team "This Won't Take Long." State Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, the captain, led the starting squad that also included Charlie Copeland, House Majority Leader Wayne A. Smith and state Reps. John C. Atkins, Joseph W. Booth and Robert J. Valihura Jr.

The Democrats -- sporting Democratic blue, of course -- did not bother with a team name, but they all wore the same number on their t-shirts. It was a 6, an in-your-Republican-face reference to the slogan "Six in '06," the number of seats the Democrats need to pick up this election year to become the majority in the state House of Representatives.

The Democrats' captain was John Carney, who looked as though he could still play quarterback for Dartmouth, even if he is turning 50 in two months. The other starters were Tom Carper and state Reps. Valerie J. Longhurst, Michael P. Mulrooney, Peter C. Schwartzkopf and John J. Viola.

Mulrooney, looking very much as though it was the morning after St. Patrick's Day, clung to a cup of coffee and said, "I shouldn't have had that last Guinness."

The play was passable as the Democrats took the best-of-three series with two quick wins, 25-18 and 25-17, but the smack-talking was much more practiced.

State Rep. Helene M. Keeley, who played for the Democrats, took a look at the Republican men and suggested their team name worked better for the bedroom.

Atkins watched the Democrats gripe about a referee's call and quipped, "The Democrats are already threatening, if they don't win on the court, they're going to take it to court."

Regardless of political persuasion, both sides substituted liberally. Matthew P. Denn, the Democratic insurance commissioner, not only came in for Carney but borrowed his t-shirt. Hmmmm . . . a case of lieutenant-governor envy?

Only Carper played the entire time. In an aside from the sidelines, Republican National Committeewoman Priscilla B. Rakestraw cracked, "There are certain perks even in a volleyball game. Nobody's going to tell a United States senator when he can play -- here or in Washington."