Posted: May 11, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The state House of Representatives did not want John C. Atkins. The voters in the 41st Representative District in south central Sussex County did not want him. Neither does the Democratic minority leader.

Atkins, the Republican ex-representative who resigned before he was run out, had lunch last Saturday with Minority Leader Robert F. Gilligan, when they both stopped by the Millsboro Wesleyan Church's chicken barbecue taking place next to Atkins' house.

Gilligan, who comes from a Stanton area district in New Castle County, was downstate for the special legislative election, in which a write-in campaign for Atkins put him in third place for his old seat behind Republican Gregory A. Hastings, who won, and Democrat Lynn R. Bullock.

Atkins pre-election did nothing to discourage the write-in campaign. Atkins post-election has done nothing to discourage speculation that his conversation with Gilligan included talk about a political comeback for Atkins as a Democrat.

It is fitting that the two men shared chicken dinner at a church barbecue, because Gilligan says Atkins' chances of running as a Democrat are nothing but a wing and a prayer.

"Mr. Atkins is a Republican. Mr. Atkins should stay a Republican. Mr. Atkins will not be the Democratic candidate in '08. I didn't ask Mr. Atkins to become a Democrat. It was an accidental meeting. I was eating down-home chicken, potato salad and baked beans. It was finger-lickin' good," Gilligan said.

"John brought it up, but it certainly wasn't my doing. We are not encouraging him to become a Democrat. Can I be any more specific? John is a likable person, and we wish him well, but we wish him well as a Republican."

Gilligan's message certainly sounds loud and clear, but this is John Atkins, who pretended for the longest time he was not in Ocean City, he was not drinking, he was not resigning. Reality has a way of taking its time in getting to him.

"I've had some Democrats down here, some 41st District Democrats, asking. Certainly it would be up to the 41st District, not Bob Gilligan," Atkins said.

"I like Bob Gilligan. He'll always be a friend of mine. But there's still two things he hasn't learned. One is, when you're from New Castle County, you don't tell someone from Sussex what they can or can't do. The second thing is, you don't eat barbecued chicken with a fork."

Gilligan shot back. "I was licking my fingers when I was done, so I guess I used my fingers. I used my fork for my potato salad and baked beans," he said.

"I didn't know this was going to be such a famous meal."

Running as a Democrat may not be such a good idea for Atkins, anyway, not in the 41st Representative District. This is conservative country.

The Democrats still are smarting over what happened in the special election. They poured $40,000 and countless hours into Lynn Bullock's campaign, yet he wound up with 38 percent of the vote -- one measly percentage point more than Barbara Lifflander, regarded as one of the Democrats' weakest candidates in 2006.

Although Bullock called himself a conservative, the Republicans bloodied him with campaign literature tying him to Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and "the liberal tax-and-spend team in Dover." Imagine what they could do tying Atkins to that upstate Democrat Bob Gilligan.

Their chicken barbecue would be famous all over again.