Posted: April 16, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

All the trappings of an old-fashioned political banquet were there.

A long head table peopled with the governor and a United States senator and the lieutenant governor. The congressman was in the room, too, but he was a Republican and his party was out of power. He got to speak but not sit at the head table. That was for Democrats.

A free-flowing bar. Chicken, because this is Delaware. A crowd with more titles than a library.

It had to be an old-fashioned political banquet, because it was put together in honor of Thurman Adams Jr., the Bridgeville Democrat who is the state Senate's president pro tem.

This sturdy Sussex Countian will be 80 in July, but his age was not the reason for the old-time display. It was the recognition that in this dizzying day of spin and double talk and parsing, Adams has not wavered from his prime political value of never going back on his word -- and damn the consequences, to himself or anyone.

The official cause for the banquet, held Tuesday evening at Dover Downs with more than 500 people attending, was to celebrate Adams for his 35 years in the state Senate, a Delaware record.

It ties him for the longest tenure in a single office here with Joe Biden, the Democrat who has spent 35 years in the U.S. Senate, and Bob Gilligan, the Democratic minority leader with 35 years in the state House of Representatives. Biden is senior, because of his two years on the New Castle County Council. Both Biden and Gilligan were at the dinner.

Adams also was honored for his 31 years as the chair of the Senate Executive Committee, which considers the confirmation of all the governor's nominees, including Cabinet secretaries and judges. Adams has been there so long that every single sitting judge has been before him.

As Lt. Gov. John Carney wittily told the gathering, "Thurman, I'm just delighted to be here with 500 of your best friends -- and everybody who needs approval from the Executive Committee."

There was one mischievous twist on this straightforward evening. It was kept secret from Adams.

He thought he was going to a small event with perhaps 30 people to receive an award from the state's chiefs of police. So as not to dumbfound him entirely, he was told moments before he entered the banquet hall that he really was walking into a tribute, but he was not told its scope.

The applause and the size staggered him, and he backed up a couple of steps. Adams, who typically looks about as animated as Mount Rushmore, choked up and beamed.

Tom Sharp, the Labor secretary who was a Democratic president pro tem himself, was delighted that Adams was fooled. "I said, there's no way they can keep this a secret. In Dover?"

Adams was surprised that he was surprised. "I can't believe there are this many people, and nobody slipped up," he said.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a fellow Democrat, presented Adams with the Order of the First State, the highest honor Delaware can bestow.

Speakers praised Adams for the steadiness that makes him, for better or worse, both trustworthy and unbending. He does not suffer double dealing, nor does he cave, and he knows how to make the legislative apparatus work for him -- as people who push bills he does not want, like the one for gay rights, have learned all too well.

"He is as straightforward as any person I've ever dealt with," said Congressman Mike Castle, who was a Republican governor before he went to Capitol Hill.

"There are many lawyers in this state who thought they were going to be judges, and I thought they were going to be judges, then Thurman told me they weren't going to be judges," Castle quipped.

The most amusing moment was provided by three Democratic ex-legislators who preceded Adams as president pro tem -- Tom Sharp, Don Isaacs and Richard Cordrey, now the finance secretary. They dressed like the Blues Brothers in dark suits and sunglasses for a number based on "Charlie Brown," a song by the Coasters, with a verse:

Thurman A., Thurman A.

He's OK, that Thurman A.

The pro tems were terrible. They were so terrible, they were wonderful.

They prompted Myron Steele, the chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, to open his speech by joking, "The pro tems have forever destroyed the myth of a harmonious Senate. You have not shaken my firm belief that my favorite group is the Supremes."

The banquet was a reminder of the way Legislative Hall revolves in its own self-contained orbit. Adams' fellow senators wanted to give him a tribute, but their rules say it must be signed by the president pro tem, so they had to bring it along and get his signature for his own tribute to be official.

There was also the sight of Joe Farley Sr., the lobbyist for Delmarva Power, as the master of ceremonies, and what does that say about the fate in the Senate of Bluewater Wind?