Posted: May 4, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Democrats' consensus choice for their next state chair appears to be John D. Daniello, a seasoned and fearless political leader whose emergence acknowledges the party's growing reliance on New Castle County to win elections.

Daniello, who was re-elected without opposition barely a month ago as the New Castle County Democratic chair, is telling party members he is willing to fill the void that unexpectedly opened when Richard H. Bayard decided to give up the state chair after two terms, leaving no obvious replacement behind.

The Democrats will elect their new chair to a four-year term on Saturday, May 14, at a state convention in Dover.

Daniello has expressed his interest in running in a letter being circulated to convention delegates.

"After discussions with many party leaders, including elected officials, subdivision chairs, district chairs and committee persons, I have decided to seek the office of Democratic state chair," Daniello wrote.

"I believe I have the experience to perform in this position, the commitment to add to our success and the friendship of those who want our party to truly represent all Delawareans."

Although Daniello is a logical choice to lead the party, it is something of a surprise that he is available. This time last year he was recovering from a broken hip that threatened to end his political involvement, which dates from the 1960s and includes his participation as a New Castle County councilman, congressional candidate and Cabinet secretary.

Daniello's toughness and allegiance to the party, however, have never been in dispute, and he came back to lead the county Democrats to a strong showing in the 2004 election, sweeping all nine county offices on the ballot and providing a base for the statewide candidates, especially Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who stayed in office on the strength of her upstate vote.

Among the Democrats, there is probably no one else with Daniello's prickly sensitivity to the party's most looming dilemma -- how to sort out the 2008 gubernatorial nomination without a fratricidal contest between Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr. and Treasurer Jack A. Markell.

Daniello knows the costs personally. In 1970, when the political parties switched from conventions to primaries for settling statewide nominations, the Democrats inaugurated the new era with raging hostility over a congressional primary between Daniello and Samuel L. Shipley, later to be a state chair. The election shattered the party and unleashed animosities that are remembered to this day.

Daniello won the nomination, but it did him no good. He had nothing left for the general election against Republican Pierre S. du Pont, who not only went on to three terms as the state's lone member in the House of Representatives but to two terms as governor.

Years later Daniello offered an epitaph on that experience, and it is certain he would not want to repeat it as his legacy as the all-but-designated state chair.

"We were burned out. We were broke," Daniello said. "And the party's been fractured ever since."