Posted: May 7, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Keynote remarks for the Sussex County Democrats. A solo number at the Gridiron. A lecture at the University of Delaware.

Shuttling around the state like that sure makes it look like someone is thinking about running for something. Either that, or doing a good imitation of Tom Carper.

Throw in some pushups, and it would be just about perfect.

This road show belongs to Collin O'Mara, the wunderkind who landed in Delaware in 2009, when he was 29, as the environmental secretary for Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, and then catapulted from there in 2014, when he was 35, to run the National Wildlife Federation.

While it looks like a candidacy and acts like a candidacy, the best that can be said for it is it is one of those "open sesame" campaigns. Say the magic words and hope that something opens up.

It goes without saying that Democratic politics is in a state of suspended animation these days. Nothing can move until the question is resolved, one way or another, about whether Beau Biden is fit enough to run for governor, because he is the only one who can take himself out.

Nobody puts Beau Biden in a corner.

So the waiting and watching and wondering go on with the speculation that John Carney the Democratic congressman, and Tom Gordon, the Democratic executive in New Castle County, are waiting in the wings for governor.

If it happens, there will be open season on the Democratic nomination for the state's lone congressional seat, not least because the voters here have not elected a Republican to a major statewide office since 2008, when Mike Castle last ran for congressman.

This is where O'Mara comes in. "I love what I'm doing, but I think the folks here are concerned about the future of the state and looking for ideas. I have no plans," he said.

Not that O'Mara is alone with an "open sesame" congressional campaign. Others being mentioned are Chris Bullock, the Democratic president of the New Castle County Council, Bryan Townsend, a Democratic state senator, and Bryon Short, a Democratic state representative. (Hans Reigle, a past mayor of Wyoming, is in for the Republicans.)

O'Mara has yet to be a household name, although he is a familiar figure in the state's political circles, but a larger problem for him would be the lack of an obvious political base for someone who has lived here for just six years -- and still does, in Wilmington, despite his new nationwide footprint.

Bullock probably has the widest reach as of now. As an African-American preacher, he has a natural constituency in Wilmington, a Democratic stronghold that is crucial in any party primary, and he has already run and won countywide in the state's most populous county. Townsend and Short, as legislators, have a political base, too, but not much of one.  

Running for something was the original plan when O'Mara was growing up in Syracuse.

"I was the kind who wanted to go to law school immediately and then after that be a prosecutor and then run for office and kind of be the guy that most of you all hate," quipped O'Mara, as he spoke Tuesday as part of a lecture series on public policy at the University of Delaware in Newark.

Instead, he worked for the mayor of Syracuse and the mayor of San Jose, decided he never really wanted to be a lawyer, anyway, studied environmental economics at Oxford and wound up here.

O'Mara is easily recognizable for being as lean as a sapling and as fast-talking as one of those voiceovers flying through the warnings and disclaimers at the end of a pharmaceutical ad, although generally more believable.

For two years in a row, he has written and performed a witty, quick-paced patter song at the Gridiron, the annual political roast. Who would have guessed he actually has to slow down to do it?

Last time O'Mara went with Gilbert & Sullivan, as he transformed Now-he-is-the-ruler-of-the-Queen's-Navy into I-am-the-very-model-of-a-modern-DNREC-secretr'y.

This time it was Billy Joel's pop song of "We Didn't Start the Fire," which became "We Love Our Small Wonder," a pell-mell three minutes or so through Delaware history from the Lenape and Minquas to today in the final verses:

Joe is veep, Ted begins

Housing tumbles, jobs crashin'

GM, Chrysler, refinery

Jack restarts economy

Tea Party rise in 2010

Is that Gordon back again

"I am not a witch, I'm you"

Carney wins and so does Coons


Civil unions, marriage too

Welcome home Guard troops

Bodie, Phillips, both are creeps

Delle Donne in Sweet 16

Irene, Sandy flood the shore

Peltz knocking on Ellen's door

Murder city, gang wars

I can't take it anymore

Although O'Mara runs a national advocacy group, his style is not given to extreme politics, but negotiation. As he said in his lecture at the University of Delaware, he would rather get 90 percent of what he wants immediately than 100 percent after 10 years in the courts.

"There are two types of leadership models. There are the folks outside the room protesting, trying to put pressure on the issue from the outside. Then there are the folks inside the room actually negotiating the deal," he said.

O'Mara wants to be inside the room where it is happening. Open sesame.