Posted: March 9, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There was a ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead giddiness when the Brandywine Hundred Democrats got together Thursday evening to begin selecting a candidate for the upcoming special election.

The late unlamented character passing from their midst was state Rep. Wayne A. Smith, the Republican majority leader who is giving up his seat Monday from the 7th Representative District to run a health care trade association.

"I did my Irish jig," quipped Bryon H. Short, one of five Democrats applying to be the candidate.

Smith was a great and terrible political figure to the Brandywine Hundred Democrats because he won nine consecutive elections, starting with his first race in 1990, and because he was too conservative for their taste -- a far cry from the tree-hugging, kumbaya-singing, arts-loving, party-of-the-people politics on proud display at the meeting.

The Democrats were happy not only because Smith was going, but because they no longer feel like political Munchkins in Brandywine Hundred, once so Republican that they had about as much chance of winning an election there as having a house from Kansas land on Smith's head.

Instead, with the Democratic presence steadily growing, they believe they have a shot at overcoming their registration deficit, which has dwindled to 500 more Republicans than Democrats. Never mind that the Republicans have a better record in special elections than they do.

The proof of the Democrats' rising expectations was in the attendance. About 75 people showed up to scope out the possibilities for a candidate at the Lancashire Elementary School and to hear brief pep talks from state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and state Rep. Diana M. McWilliams, who became the symbol of the Democratic surge when she won one of the four Brandywine Hundred representative districts in 2004.

"How important this is to me -- I'm the only Democratic representative in Brandywine Hundred," McWilliams said.

The Democrats expect to settle on a candidate Monday evening at a meeting that will be open to Democrats but unlike this one, closed to the press. Their choice will face James T. Bowers, a Verizon sales manager and Smith's next-door neighbor chosen by the Republicans late last week, for the special election that has yet to be scheduled but probably will be held in April.

The Democrats who want to run had five minutes to make their pitch.

The first up in alphabetical order was David D. Brady, who was a state representative for 20 years until his Claymont area district, the one Democratic enclave in Brandywine Hundred, was combined with Smith's in redistricting in 2002 and he lost the runoff.

Brady stressed his experience. "The bottom line is the [7th Representative District] committee choose someone who is most likely to win the election. It won't bother me if it's not me," he said.

Carl Colantuono, who lost to Smith in 2006, took a feel-good approach. "When Wayne gave up his seat, the world got better for Brandywine Hundred and the whole state of Delaware," he said. "Good things can happen, and I want to be part of it."

Only in Delaware can people say with all sincerity -- and be believed -- that they are newcomers because they have lived here just eight years. The third potential candidate was Jeffrey K. Politis, whose wife Pam spoke for him because he was away on business.

Jeffrey and Pam Politis moved here in 1999 when he was hired by Hercules. Pam Politis said her husband was "really handsome" and a "great analytic thinker" with the skills to bring people together and ought to be the candidate because he would be the one "riding the wave of enthusiasm with a new face."

Bryon Short, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper when he was a congressman and governor, promised to be a high-energy campaigner. "This yellow-dog Democrat's gonna work like a dog," he said.

Short also stopped dancing his jig over Smith's departure long enough to praise him for his constituent service and suggest that the casework Short did while working for Carper qualified him to take over the seat.

Stephen P. Tanzer, who lost to Smith in 2004, took what was perhaps the most unusual approach. "If you get the impression that I'm the biggest pain in the butt up here, you're probably right," he said.

It should come as no surprise that the Republicans are not-so-secretly rooting for Tanzer to be the Democrats' candidate.

The biggest applause of the evening did not belong to any of the five contenders. It went to Sonia Sloan, who has spent close to 50 years in politics, back to the days when being a Democrat in Brandywine Hundred was about a step away from being a hermit, it was so lonely.

"I can't believe I'm sitting here, and there are five people who want to run," Sloan said.