Posted: May 11, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When the Delaware Democrats call their convention to order, they expect to mean it.

Nothing unruly is supposed to happen when the party gathers Saturday in Dover to elect its officers, largely by ratifying a slate that has been put together through discussions with Democratic elected officials and the leadership of all three counties and Wilmington.

This is a reflection of a party with no interest in tampering with a winning streak, which has brought it six of the nine statewide offices, including the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats.

It is also a reflection of the consensus choice for state chair to replace Richard H. Bayard, who is stepping down after two terms. The party is expected to turn to John D. Daniello, currently the New Castle County chair, a take-charge type who probably could herd cats if he had to.

Naturally Daniello knows enough to take this assignment only with the essential backing from Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, and he has it. "I've worked with John Daniello since the late 1960s, and we've been friends all that time. It will be a pleasure to have him serve as our chair. He is one of the most dedicated Democrats I have ever known," Minner said.

Daniello during meetings is a master with a gavel, with a habit of hefting it as though it could be turned into a weapon to be flung right between the eyes. He also knows how to deliver a vote, and he pays attention to the party's constituencies, keeping them involved in decision-making, as the makeup of the officers expected to be installed with him shows.

The slate was assembled with nods to elected officials, geographic balance and the core elements of the Democratic base, including labor unions, women and minority voters. It also rewards New Castle County, which provides the bulk of the votes for the party's statewide victories.

In addition to a state chair, the convention will elect a national committeeman and committeewoman to represent Delaware on the Democratic National Committee, a vice chairman and vice chairwoman, treasurer and secretary. All of the officers serve four-year terms.

Only the race for national committeewoman is expected to be contested. Incumbent Karen L.K. Valentine, a Kent County Democrat who is a staff representative for the public employees' union, faces nominal opposition from Karen Weldin Stewart, a former candidate for insurance commissioner.

The candidate for national committeeman is Rhett D. Ruggerio, a Wilmington Democrat who is the executive assistant to Mayor James M. Baker. Ruggerio made his mark on politics as a 30-year-old campaign manager for Baker when he ousted an incumbent in the 2000 Democratic mayoral primary.

The rest of the slate is: James F. Hussey Jr., a New Castle County Democrat from the electrical workers' union, as a holdover for vice chairman; Harriet Smith Windsor, the secretary of state from Sussex County, for vice chairwoman; Patricia M. Blevins, a state senator from New Castle County, as a holdover for treasurer; and Margaret Rose Henry, a state senator from Wilmington, for secretary.

Daniello calls them "a pretty solid group of officers." He is predicting a good convention, so it ought to be. Like eggs and chickens, Daniello has been around too long to make his predictions unless he can count his votes.