Posted: April 21, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Political combat is not really state Sen. Steve Amick's style. A lawyerly Republican from Newark, he fits the city that the University of Delaware calls home, where the voters prefer the campaigning to lean toward the academic, not the acrimonious.

It keeps with his character that Amick has decided not to put himself through a bruising defense of his seat against state Rep. Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat who announced two weeks ago that she wanted to wrest away the 10th Senatorial District, which stretches from Newark south to her home territory in Middletown.

Amick delivered a letter Monday morning to the Newark Post for its weekly publication Thursday to tell his constituents he will not run for re-election because of family and health reasons, Delaware Grapevine has learned. In a brief interview later in the afternoon, Amick declined to talk about it.

Amick is 60, a retired lawyer with a reflective and sedentary bearing. He has spent more than two decades in Dover -- with eight years in the state House of Representatives and 14 years in the state Senate, where he had stints as the minority whip and the minority leader.

Hall-Long is 44, a University of Delaware nursing professor whose personality is Amick's polar opposite, projecting energetic bursts. She was elected to the legislature in 2002.

The district favors the Democrats. Between the registration and the varying approaches, this contest was taking on the attributes of a miniature version of the 2000 showdown for the U.S. Senate between Bill Roth, the aging five-term Republican, and Tom Carper, the politically-robust Democratic governor. The voters in that election figured they had to make a change sometime, and they were trending Democratic, anyway. Roth was out, and Carper was in.

Now Amick is out without a vote.

Amick signaled last year that his heart might not be in another Senate race. He applied to be the Newark alderman, the chief judge of the municipal court. According to the minutes of his meeting with City Council members, he told them, "Another campaign for a state Senate seat did not really appeal to him after doing it for 21 years, and [he] was looking for other opportunities for something different, and this one really appealed to him."

Amick did not get the judgeship. At the time he said he was returning his attention to the state Senate and intended to run for re-election.

Instead, he became the second Republican senator to walk away from his seat, rather than deal with the threat from a hard-charging challenger. State Sen. John Still, a Dover Republican, is retiring rather than take on a rematch with Brian Bushweller, a Democrat who was in Carper's gubernatorial Cabinet and nearly beat Still four years ago.

The Republicans came up with a formidable candidate to replace Still by recruiting James Hutchison, who served as Dover's mayor and police chief. They are scrambling for someone for Amick's seat.

The Republicans really cannot afford to lose any more ground in the state Senate. They already are outnumbered 13-8 in the chamber, which the Democrats have controlled for 35 years.

Amick is one of the last of his kind. As a first-time candidate in 1986, he was a Republican and a lawyer with the DuPont Co. when both the party and the company dominated Delaware, and there were a lot of Republican DuPonters in the legislature. Their makeup was more civic creatures than political animals, a breed increasingly out of place in the rough-cut partisanship today.

Still, this may not be the last of Steve Amick. As he exits the state Senate, there are whispers that he could be persuaded to run for his old House district, where the Republicans need someone to take on state Rep. John Kowalko, a rookie Democrat, as they fight to hold onto their 22-19 majority.

The registration in the House district tilts the Democrats' way, too, but legislators are most vulnerable in their first term and the voters in this more-compact area are Amick's longtime neighbors and constituents. Besides, it would be nervy and captivating if Amick did it.

When asked about running for the House seat, Amick said a lot simply by saying, "No comment."

For all of Amick's mild manner, he did get to Dover by knocking off a Democratic incumbent. What a twist it would be if he stayed there by doing it again.