Posted: April 21, 2010
THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR CANDIDATES
By Celia Cohen
Before there was Glen Urquhart, there was Tony Wedo, another well-off Republican new to Delaware politics with a hankering to run for Congress.
Wedo was not surprised at all by the sideshow that has been consuming the state's political class, ever since the latest batch of campaign finance reports came due April 15 for federal candidates.
Vance Phillips, the Republican who is the Sussex County Council president, turned out to be on Urquart's campaign payroll, a queasy arrangement if ever there was one.
Politics does not have much experience with mergers and acquisitions. It has led to a jumble of conjecturing about who is extracting what from whom and who is beholden for what, made all the more complicated because Urquhart is a Sussex County developer.
Wedo says Phillips tried to put the touch on him earlier.
"I met Vance in the exploratory [phase.] He offered his help, and I declined it," Wedo said. "He commented to me that for 'x' amount of money, he would be involved with me and help me with Sussex County. I didn't think that was appropriate."
Wedo never did become a candidate. A business executive who was with PepsiCo/Kentucky Fried Chicken and Boston Market, he currently consults with a New York investment firm on restaurant ventures. He has been trying for a couple of years to move across the line from Pennsylvania to an old house he is restoring in Greenville, but the work has gone on and on and on.
Phillips acknowledges some talk about money, but not the way Wedo described it.
"I said, you can't afford me. I knew he had no candidacy because he didn't live in the state. I didn't want to hurt his feelings," Phillips said.
As Wedo faded out as a potential candidate in February, Urquhart came on. Urquhart drew a certain amount of interest, only to be eclipsed when Michele Rollins, one of the state's most prominent business executives, declared she wanted to run.
They have their sights on the congressional seat Mike Castle, their fellow Republican, is leaving after nine terms to run for the Senate. The Democrats have John Carney, the former lieutenant governor, looking to replace Castle.
It is a secret what Phillips' price is. The campaign is being financed almost entirely by a personal loan from Urquhart of $565,000, with Phillips so far collecting a salary of $5,000. Phillips would not say how much more is coming -- "you will be able to count it up as the reports come out" -- and neither would the campaign.
"He is still a paid consultant, but as his role diminishes in the campaign, his pay will also diminish," said Kim Stevenson, a campaign spokeswoman.
There appears to be no precedent for a Delaware officeholder to be on the payroll of another politician. Certainly there is plenty evidence of cooperation, such as Tom Carper, the Democratic senator, setting up a PAC to help other candidates, or Castle appearing at a fund-raising reception for Colin Bonini, the Republican candidate for treasurer, but nothing this coldly transactional.
There is even the model Phillips himself followed in his involvement with the 2008 campaign of Bill Lee, the Republican candidate for governor. Phillips was reimbursed for expenses totaling about $7,500. His college-age daughter and a nephew were paid staffers.
"I made no decision on whether Vance got salary. I believe he got expenses," Lee said. "He made a tremendous commitment. I'm sorry he's in this present controversy. I wasn't a rich developer."
Phillips is unapologetic about his new paycheck. He says it compensates for the hours he would otherwise be spending on his real estate dealings and farming. As if he were being forced into subordinating those interests to his political reach.
Wedo, by the way, has not soured on politics. He expects to spend this campaign season helping out Rollins and some Republican legislative candidates. He enjoyed his exploratory campaign, especially the time someone in Sussex County prodded him to find out whether he knew anything about chickens.
As a matter of fact, Wedo knew everything there is to know because of his experience buying tens of millions of pounds a year at Boston Market and KFC. When it comes to chicken, he outranks Colonel Sanders.
Not to mention Wedo is up to playing chicken with Vance Phillips, too.