Posted: May 9, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The First State Gridiron Dinner & Show really should have been renamed this year. It would have been better to call it the Delaware Gridiron & Spa.

Sure, some political figures felt the heat, but there were others who were positively pampered.

It was a bad night to be Christine O'Donnell or Chip Flowers. It was a good night to be Mike Castle or Nancy Cook. At least one of this foursome might have figured it out in advance. O'Donnell did not show. The rest did.

The 20th annual Gridiron brought the collective Delaware Establishment, almost 400 people from the political, legal and corporate elite, to the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington on Saturday evening for a political roast with the usual array of skits, song and video.

It was black tie, some black humor and before the night was out, quite a few black-and-blue egos.

In the undisputed highlight of the night, people howled over a JibJab-like animation that depicted Ruth Ann Minner and Chris Tigani as a lovey-dovey, hippie-dippie Sonny and Cher frolicking across a Land of Oz countryside while singing "I Got You Babe."

This is what happens when a Democratic governor gets a private plane ride to a conference in Quebec from a big-shot liquor distributor who gets a sweetheart land deal in Milford from the state. Neither Minner nor Tigani made it to the Gridiron. Definitely a disappointment for people who wanted to watch them watching.

Naturally the Gridiron had its standard bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you segment. This is where the high-dollar sponsors get a one-finger salute as saucy slogans are made up for them. For example:

DLA Piper, the new law firm in town with office space for Castle? We've just hired the country's oldest associate.

Richards Layton & Finger? Representing almost all of the people we'll be offending tonight.

Wilmington Trust? Thanks for the memories.

This Gridiron was the first since the 2010 election with the Republican senatorial primary. Not even death and taxes could have been more inevitable than the raillery that O'Donnell had coming. This was a Castle crowd.

Lynda Maloney, the Gridiron's own Divine Ms. M, who is the former first lady of Wilmington, led the way. She sang "Look at Me, Miss Tea Party" to the tune of "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" from "Grease." Part of it went:

Look at me, Miss Tea Party

Some said challenged ethically

But I had smooth sailin'

'Cause I look like Palin

But it's me, Miss Tea Party


Look at me, Miss Tea Party

Mocked about internationally

Who thought I'd get this far

So -- up yours! -- Bill Maher

I am me -- no, I'm you

No, I'm me -- no, I'm you

No, I'm me, Miss Tea Party

There was more about O'Donnell during a video showing Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor, at a McDonald's drive-in window. Denn took orders -- yes, in a McDonald's shirt and cap -- in a riff that seemed right out of "Candid Camera."

Denn harassed some real live customers -- "As part of the state's new recycling program, we need to either give you your chicken without a wrapper, or have you bring the wrapper back, or we can come to your house and pick up the wrapper" -- but his last customer was in cahoots.

"We have a special on tea today. We have four large teas for a dollar," Denn said.

"I'm sorry, I'm not interested in tea," the customer replied.

"I don't know if you heard me correctly. That's four large teas for a dollar. You can't really beat that."

"Well, I don't know if you heard me correctly, but I don't want anything to do with anything to do with tea," the customer said, sounding really irritated by now.

"We're calling it the McDonald's tea party."

"I have no interest in the tea party," the customer said one last time. It was Castle, of course.

The Gridiron also skewered Chip Flowers, the new treasurer. Flowers is no go-along-to-get-along type, not with his grand plans infringing upon fellow Democrats from Jack Markell in the governor's office to Beau Biden in the Attorney General's Office. It made Flowers the subject of a "Gridiron Editorial" from Ron Williams, the News Journal columnist.

"Flowers has burst onto the scene with ambition that would make Donald Trump look like Pee-wee Herman," Williams said.

Williams noted that an Early Warning System, devised by Flowers to assess the state's economy, is no such thing, because it looks back at what the economy just did.

"Think of it as a weather forecast that tells you what the weather was last week."

In a mood reversal, the Gridiron paid tribute to Nancy Cook, the Democratic state senator known as the powerful Queen of Legislative Hall until she lost her seat last year. Mike Purzycki, the major domo of the Riverfront, sang a version of Frank Sinatra's "Nancy with the Smiling Face."

She did have one, too, as the Gridiron-goers gave her a standing ovation.

There was not so much love for the state Department of Transportation. Its murky financial arrangements with developers were featured in "At DOT," a takeoff of "Under the Sea" from "The Little Mermaid." The chorus deserved to become a classic:



You got a shortage

We'll pay your mortgage


As always, the last word of the evening went to the governor. Markell, giving his third Gridiron monologue, mostly played it safe and poked fun at his own administration.

"My goals for this evening were modest. All I wanted was something short and marginally funny, but Matt Denn refused to give the speech," he teased.

Markell also borrowed a "Colbert Report" comedy routine called "The Word," in which Stephen Colbert talks while a few words of pithy commentary appear on a screen beside him.

Markell took note of the medical marijuana bill making its way to his desk, as he said, "Our great economic development director, Alan Levin, is thinking of quitting the Cabinet, reacquiring his family business from Walgreens and opening a medical marijuana shop."

The screen next to him read, "VERY Happy Harry's."

The governor gets the last word, but not necessarily the last laugh. As O'Donnell and Flowers might have figured out, sooner or later the Delaware Establishment gets that. Always.