Posted: May 30, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

John Sigler thought he was just being witty, when he opened up the elections for party office at the Republican state convention by quipping, "It is the witching hour."

Little did he know.

Barely a month after Sigler serenely won a second term as the party chair, he abruptly quit, flummoxing everybody in state politics and consigning the Republicans at least temporarily to the leadership of an obscure but fervent tea partier who was elected as the vice chair.

There has not just been a witching hour. There has been a witching year here in Delaware.

Nobody should be blamed for coming down with a rampaging case of triskaidekaphobia, the fear of 13, not with the way the year of 2013 has been going. Sigler's resignation is only the latest emanation of the voodoo politics flickering in these parts.

There was Dave Grimaldi, early in his tenure as the chief aide to Tom Gordon, the New Castle County Democratic executive, getting bitten in a bar fight by a funeral home assistant. It was like Grimaldi was trying to do the impossible and give Sherry Freebery a good name.

There was also Dennis Williams, the city's new Democratic mayor, thinking he could be Wyatt Earp and get a posse to round up the council members in a showdown over the budget. Not only was it bad politics, but how in the world could the mayor, who chaired the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee when he was in the legislature, forget where the power of the purse lies?

For a fresh burst of triskaidekaphobia, the council naturally has 13 members.

Nor should it be forgotten the year is alive with lurid sex abuse allegations in Sussex County against Eric Bodenweiser, a sometime Republican legislative candidate indicted for child sex crimes, and Vance Phillips, a Republican county councilman named in a civil lawsuit filed by a youthful campaign volunteer claiming he forced her into sex and bondage.

This is a state that is the proud home to a vice president?

Now comes Sigler's sudden departure. People could not help noticing that just when it seemed it could not get any worse for the state Republican Party, it does.

The Republicans are down to one statewide elected official, the auditor, and they are in the minority in the General Assembly. In the last 10 years they have tried out four state chairs, three national committeemen and two national committeewomen, not to mention they had a party treasurer who had to exit mid-term when she weirdly changed her registration to Democrat.

Sigler resigned Wednesday by letter, saying, "It is with deep regret and a sense of profound disappointment that I must inform you that due to newly emergent and totally unexpected circumstances that are completely beyond my control, I am unable to continue to serve you as the chairman . . . effective immediately."

Without elaborating much further, Sigler indicated to other Republicans his situation was job-related. A retired Dover Police captain, he is the general counsel to Psychotherapeutic Services, which provides mental and behavioral care programs in four states, including Delaware.

Sigler is also a past president of the National Rifle Association. The trick to his chairmanship was he managed to be acceptable to the regulars and the tea partiers, despite their murderous resentments of one another. The who-lost-the-Senate-seat debacle, in which the primary between Mike Castle and Christine O'Donnell made a Democratic senator out of Chris Coons, lives on.

The fissures manifested themselves vividly all over again at the state convention when Nelly Jordan, a tea partier, beat out Ruth Briggs King, a regular who is a state representative, for vice chair. It did not seem like a big deal at the time.

That victory, however, let Jordan move up to be the chair for now. Under the party rules, the Republicans must have a convention within 60 days to elect a new one.

The Republicans did not need this. The plan was to turn their attention to the 2014 election and try to capitalize on the Democratic shenanigans in Wilmington and New Castle County, along with a liberal legislative agenda of taxes, gay marriage, gun legislation and a repeal of the death penalty moving through Dover.

Fighting to the north. Sex tales to the south. The General Assembly in the middle. What a state.