Posted: March 29, 2007
THE REMORSE OF HIS RESIGNATION WAS GREATLY EXAGGERATED
By Celia Cohen
As the votes mounted for expulsion and John C. Atkins was preparing to resign, he already was plotting a way to return to the state House of Representatives.
Atkins, a Millsboro Republican who was in his third term, telephoned the Sussex County chair of the Independent Party of Delaware on Tuesday morning, hours before his resignation, to press for a nomination as a minor-party candidate in the special election to fill his seat.
The day after, Atkins went to the Sussex County Elections Department in Georgetown with questions also indicating that he was thinking about running. "He said, I'm laying my options. He said, 'I'll be back.' I don't know what 'I'll be back' means," said Kenneth L. McDowell, the county elections director.
Who knew that Atkins, with all of his choked-up apologies on the House floor, was exiting with his fingers crossed?
The House leaders, sitting as the Ethics Committee, found that Atkins brought the chamber into disrepute. Now he appears intent on adding disrespect, and they are not happy.
"It's certainly a smack in the face of the institution. I just find it amazing on the cusp of his resignation, on the cuff of being expelled, he would do this," Republican Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart said.
"Here we go again," Democratic Minority Leader Robert F. Gilligan said
Atkins would not say Thursday what he intended to do, but he certainly sounded like someone who regarded his speech on the floor not only as a farewell address but a declaration of candidacy.
"There's a groundswell of support that still believes in John Atkins, and people who know me the best believe in second chances. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm enjoying my retirement," Atkins said Thursday in a brief telephone interview.
Atkins resigned as the votes were building in the House to expel him for misconduct for his carousing and domestic violence Oct. 29 and subsequent abuse of office as he tried to cover it up and cajole lenient treatment out of the authorities.
Cathcart warned that the House would pick up where it left off if Atkins ran in the special election and got the votes to return to Dover. "My message to John is going to be, if you do this and you are elected, I will bring [ethics] charges against you," he said.
Cathcart had tried to ease Atkins' departure by asking the House to stand and applaud him. "I'd like to take that back," Cathcart said.
The special election has not been scheduled but must be held no more than 41 days after Atkins' resignation. No doubt anticipating that the Republicans will not let him on their ballot, Atkins reached out to a minor party.
"The man was desperate. He did approach the Independent Party of Delaware. He said, I need your nomination now," said Wolfgang von Baumgart, the Independent Party's Sussex County chair, who took Atkins' call on the morning before his resignation.
"I consulted with about eight people in our party. The overwhelming consensus was no. No way was that guy going to get on our ticket," said von Baumgart, who found it ironic that he had called for Atkins' resignation, and here he was, looking for a spot on the ballot.
Atkins was not giving up, though. "John asked me who was the chair of the Libertarian Party," von Baumgart said.
There are eight parties with ballot status to name a candidate, so Atkins can keep looking. In addition to the Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and the Independent Party, there are the Green, Constitution, Working Families and Socialist Workers parties, along with the possibility of mounting a write-in campaign.
The Socialist Workers may be more than Atkins, with his conservative politics, can stomach, but who knows?
Atkins does not seem to care what he does, as long as it brings him attention. As one disbelieving Republican said, "He's the Paris Hilton of Delaware politics."