Posted: May 8, 2006
REPORTS OF HER RETIREMENT ARE GREATLY EXAGGERATED
By Celia Cohen
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner popped a lot of political fantasies Saturday evening simply by showing up for the First State Gridiron Dinner & Show, the 15th annual roast of Delaware's high officeholders with low humor.
The governor was hearty. The governor was even funny in her own Ruth Ann get-even kind of way.
More to the point, the governor used the Gridiron privilege of getting the last word to flatten mounds of silly speculation that she would retire before her term ends in January 2009 and turn the office over to Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., the fellow Democrat she favors to follow herself, anyway.
What better time than the Gridiron with nearly 500 members of the state's ruling class gathered as witnesses at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington?
"People are saying I'm going to take an early retirement," Minner teased. "I worked so hard to get this job, I have no intention of retiring."
Almost everybody who was anybody was there to hear it, from Carney and Treasurer Jack A. Markell, the rival Democrat for governor, to Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper and Republican Rep. Michael N. Castle, to the attorney-general antagonists Democrat Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III and Republican Ferris W. Wharton -- all but Beau's daddy, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, who was too busy running for president to attend.
The retirement rumors zoomed out of control last month at about the time Minner had a bout with kidney stones. It was extreme enough that nervous politicians were checking the state constitution.
The Democrats wanted to know whether Carney would have the power to appoint a lieutenant governor (sorry, the office stays vacant), and the Republicans wanted to check whether Carney still could run twice for governor himself (oh bitter day, he could.)
Minner had this retirement stuff in perspective. She told the crowd she expected to enjoy it through nice dinners, travel to Europe and the occasional ball game -- "what the heck, I'm doing that now."
No kidding, especially the travel. In 2005, the first year after her final election, the only months she did not take trips were January, May and December, according to a schedule provided by her office.
It was a payoff for being not only the governor but the president of the Council of State Governments -- with excursions to places like Saskatchewan, Oregon, Aspen, Australia, Nova Scotia, Germany and as luck would have it, even Rome the day before the pope's funeral.
Back from the future, Minner's health was a source of merriment all evening long. She used it herself as she pointed out the difference between her kidney stones and an intelligence test for News Journal reporters -- "I passed my kidney stones."
In addition, the Gridiron players noted that Minner also had a giant thorn removed from her side in February. The "thorn" was shown on mammoth screens -- a photo of Nathan Hayward III, the ex-secretary of transportation.
Funny thing about the Gridiron, it was not the players who got Minner back but Edward S. Woolard Jr., the DuPont ex-chief given a civic award at the dinner. In his acceptance remarks, he said he was warned if he supported John M. Burris, the Republican who ran against Minner in 2000, the state police would be a mess, the prisons would have problems and the state finances would sour.
Well, he did, and it happened.
Of course, Woolard's old company was fair game, too. The players called it "DuPont -- Better Living Through Layoffs."
At every Gridiron there is usually a politician who winds up with a generous share of the digs, and this time the "It Boy" was state Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., the Clayton Democratic good-old-boy who does not speak much but slams shut a big desk drawer whenever his leadership has a bill it wants to forget about. Vaughn used to be the corrections commissioner, and when he locks up something, it stays locked up.
Vaughn was spoofed in a good-old-boy song, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" from Willie Nelson and Julio Inglesias. It became "To All the Bills We've Killed Before," and the lead-in had Jack Schreppler, a Gridiron player and Artesian Water executive, acting the part of Vaughn and promising "extensive review" of a gay rights bill:
"I got it right here in my bottom drawer, safe and quiet. Been studyin' that one so hard I nearly got a broke back."
Vaughn was struck again when John Rago, a player who has a day job in the Wilmington mayor's office, outfitted himself like Yosemite Sam to masquerade as Smyrna Mayor Mark G. Schaeffer. The "mayor" twirled his guns and sang to the tune of Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line":
I keep a close watch on this town of mine.
My camera's on my neighbor all the time.
I poke my nose in where the sun don't shine.
It ain't no crime, I walk the line.
How long can Jim Vaughn hold onto that seat?
To be mayor and senator would be sweet.
With absentee ballots I can't be beat.
That seat is mine, I walk the line.
The Gridiron players also had a song for M. Jane Brady, the Republican who morphed from attorney general to judge. They took "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" from "Grease" and made it "Look at Me, I'm Judge Brady":
Look at me, I'm Judge Brady.
I got the deal of the century.
In case you don't know
It makes way for Beau,
So now I'm Judge Brady.
For veteran Gridiron-goers, this one came with surprising poignancy. In the early years no troupers had more to do with establishing this event as an institution than Thomas C. and Lynda R. Maloney, once Wilmington's first couple. Tom Maloney died too young at 58 in 2000, and Lynda Maloney had to quit on lawyer's orders in 2003 after she became a federal witness and plaintiff in the New Castle County scandal.
In the old days, the Gridiron signature was Lynda Maloney's annual variation of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from "Evita." This year marked the debut of Christopher Maloney, introduced as "Son of Gridiron," singing in a voice as strong and sweet as his mother's:
Don't cry for me, Delmarva Power.
I'll just go take a cold shower.
All through the seasons
With no resistance
You make your profits
Off my subsistence.
As for your fortune and as for shame,
You don't have to apologize.
Like Enron some day,
I hope you're cut down to size.
My house now goes dark with the setting of the sun.
You may not think that's a crime.
At least Jesse James used a gun.
It was good to hear a Maloney singing. It would have been the talk of the Gridiron, except the news this time was the Gridiron actually made news when the governor said, "Rumors be darned, I'll be here next year."