Posted: May 12, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The party that brought its voters the contentiousness of Obama-Clinton and Markell-Carney, but carried the state in the election, anyway, has decided it might as well keep on fighting.

The Delaware Democrats are converging on Dover for their state convention Saturday to elect new officers, and there is a good measure of backroom plotting to lead up to it.

The delegates are being pressed to choose sides in a race between John Daniello, the state chair running for another four-year term, and Brian McGlinchey, the challenger who is an official with the Laborers International Union of North America.

Political parties typically have leadership fights after losing streaks, but not the state Democrats. It could be argued they have never been better off, as they control seven of the nine statewide offices, including the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats, along with the two chambers of the General Assembly. Also, they are on a first-name basis with the vice president.

"We are great at coming together after a loss. We have to learn to stay together after we win," Daniello cracked.

Daniello did not expect a contest for state chair. For that matter, neither did McGlinchey.

The static began crackling after Rhett Ruggerio decided not to run for re-election as national committeeman, one of the four positions the state party has on the Democratic National Committee, along with the national committeewoman, the state chair and a vice chair.

McGlinchey figured he could parlay his labor credentials into national committeeman, but he did not take into account that state Rep. Bob Gilligan, who became the speaker when the Democrats took over the House of Representatives last year, also had designs on it.

There would be nothing unusual about Gilligan taking both posts. Before Ruth Ann Minner was the governor, she collected even more titles. At one point she was simultaneously lieutenant governor, Democratic national committeewoman and Delaware Mother of the Year. 

As Gilligan came on, McGlinchey backed off. "I was not going to do anything but be deferential to the speaker of the House," McGlinchey said.

This was sound reasoning for McGlinchey, who also happens to be registered as a labor lobbyist in Dover. It is poor form for lobbyists to antagonize someone who holds the gavel, unless they do not care if their bills ever reach the agenda.

McGlinchey switched his sights to state chair, but Daniello was not about to budge.

It should not have been a surprise to McGlinchey. Probably the two people in Delaware politics least likely to scare are Bob Gilligan and John Daniello.

Think of Spartan mothers telling their sons to come back from war either with their shield or on it. The attitude of the Spartan mothers is pure Gilligan and Daniello.

"This is not about Bob Gilligan or John Daniello. This is just about me taking it to another level," McGlinchey said.

There are actually issues is the race for state chair.

Under Daniello, the party drove toward endorsements in the 2008 primary, its executive committee backing John Carney over Jack Markell for governor and Gene Reed over Karen Weldin Stewart for insurance commissioner. It happened despite a reluctance in some party quarters to take sides.

The party officialdom was stung when Markell and Stewart won, although the tensions relaxed as the campaign season progressed and both were elected.

Nowadays Markell and the party are slowly bonding. Erik Schramm, who ran Markell's 2006 race for treasurer, took over as the New Castle County Democratic chair. Abby Betts, the Kent County Democratic chair, is Markell's scheduler. Josh Schoenberg, who worked on Markell's gubernatorial campaign, is the executive director at Democratic state headquarters.

Still, McGlinchey says the involvement in the primary was wrong. "The state party should not be used as a weapon against other Democrats," he said.

As for McGlinchey, he has stirred up stuff against his fellow Democrats, too. In the last election, political contributions from his labor union found their way to Republicans -- $5,000 to the Delaware Republican Party and $20,000 to the Working Families Party, a minor party supporting Vince Lofink, Bill Oberle and Terry Spence, who were all pro-labor Republican representatives.

Lofink and Spence are now ex-legislators, with Spence reincarnated as a lobbyist for the International Union of Operating Engineers.

Sam Lathem, the state AFL-CIO president who is backing McGlinchey, says there is nothing to apologize for. "We endorse Republicans who are good to labor," he said.

McGlinchey is circulating a list of 30 or so elected and party officials, heavy on the Wilmington side, including Mayor Jim Baker, who are with him. The list does not include Markell, Sen. Tom Carper or Sen. Ted Kaufman, all ostentatiously staying as neutral as Switzerland on this one.

Daniello has had four years to put his stamp on the party. He has a way of being able to count his votes even before there is a vote, because the organization is rippled with his loyalists. He is the last of the politicians dedicated to the party above all.

"I'm supporting John Daniello. John and I fight all the time. I would really miss that," quipped Rebecca Young, the executive director of the Progressive Democrats for Delaware. "Seriously, you can't argue with his record."

The Democrats' mood makes it hard to think of Daniello losing. With their winning streak in Delaware, they seem inclined to fight but not to switch.