Posted: April 16, 2013
HIKING THE COMEBACK TRAIL
By Celia Cohen
Comebacks are making a comeback right now.
Ex-officeholders who were left as political road kill in other states, people who totally made asphalt of themselves, are trying to creep back in.
Politicians can be a lot like zombies, without the decency to know when they are dead.
There is, for example, Mark Sanford. He contributed an enduring euphemism to politics when he gave new meaning to "hiking the Appalachian Trail," the excuse offered for his absence when he was actually "cavorting after an Argentine lover."
Soon Sanford was the Republican governor of South Carolina no more.
That was all the way back in 2009. More recently, he won a primary and a runoff to emerge as the Republican candidate in a special congressional election on May 7. As if this race was not already the king of political farce, the Democratic candidate is Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of Stephen Colbert, the comic king of political farce. Sanford is favored.
Then there is Anthony Weiner, the Democratic ex-congressman who had little choice but to resign in 2011 after sending out a racy mini-self-portrait on Twitter. Now he is thinking about running for mayor of New York.
Tell an English major that Weiner is the most famous synecdoche in political history and then wait for the giggles.
"Synecdoche," which is pronounced sin-EK-duh-kee, is a figure of speech that uses a part of something to refer to the whole, or vice versa. Like "wheels" for "car." Like "Stars and Stripes" for the U.S. flag. Like "weiner" for "Weiner."
It all brings to mind the best five comebacks in Delaware politics.
1. Tom Gordon, New Castle County's Democratic executive. Out: 2005. In: 2012
Gordon finished up two terms as a man besieged, not only by corruption charges brought by Colm Connolly, the U.S. attorney, but also by a public perception that he and Sherry Freebery, his second-in-command and fellow former police chief, were turning the county into a police state.
As Gordon wandered in the political wilderness, he got nicked by a misdemeanor out of the federal charges, but nothing worse, and also tried but failed to win his old job back in 2008. He finally won it again in 2012, as memories faded and he looked better by comparison with Paul Clark, the Democratic county executive encumbered by a phantom running mate called Stoltz.
2. John Atkins, Democratic state representative. Out: 2007. In: 2008
Atkins, elected as a Republican in 2002, had a bad pre-Halloween night in 2006. So bad he flourished his legislative ID card to police in Ocean City, Md., and was not booked for drunken driving. So bad he was arrested for a spat with his wife afterwards at their home in Millsboro. So bad he was forced out of the House of Representatives.
But not so bad he could not change parties from Republican to Democrat, not so bad the voters could not forgive him, and not so bad he could not be re-elected after a 20-month timeout.
3. Sherman Tribbitt, Democratic governor. Out: 1969. In: 1970
Tribbitt's woes were all political. He got his start as a legislator in 1956, made it to speaker, and was elected lieutenant governor in 1964 with Charlie Terry as the Democratic governor. Then Terry left the National Guard in Wilmington too long after the riots ignited by Martin Luther King's assassination and had a heart attack during the 1968 campaign, and both of them were out.
Tribbitt ran for his old House seat in 1970, got it back, and then lay in wait for a chance to run for governor. When the state finances cratered in 1971 under Russell Peterson, the Republican governor, Tribbitt crowed to his caucus mates, " I just got elected governor." He was right. He beat Peterson the next year.
4. Bert Carvel, Democratic governor. Out: 1953. In: 1961.
Carvel rode into office with Harry Truman at the top of the Democratic ticket in 1948, and he was gone four years later in a Republican landslide with Dwight Eisenhower leading the way.
The Republican who defeated Carvel was Caleb Boggs, then a popular congressman, and Carvel saw him coming. In fact, Carvel offered Boggs an appointment to the state Supreme Court to get him out of politics, but Boggs declined.
Carvel waited him out. Boggs was elected in 1952 and re-elected in 1956. When Boggs ran for the Senate in 1960, Carvel campaigned again for governor and won, the state's only two-term governor with split terms.
5. John Carney, Democratic congressman. Out: 2009. In: 2011
After two terms as the lieutenant governor, Carney lost a Democratic primary for governor to Jack Markell in 2008, but he did it with such grace that he was back in office as a congressman after the next election.
Carney actually deserves to be listed higher up, except his comeback was so smooth that people probably have forgotten he was ever sidelined at all.