Posted: May 9, 2016
By Celia Cohen
All anybody really needs to know to understand Delaware politics happened in about 45 seconds at the annual political roast known as the First State Gridiron Dinner & Show.
The governor, who always gets the last word, was announced, but it was not Jack Markell who appeared. It was not even Bad-Ass Jack, the Democratic governor's evil twin who has usurped him on the Gridiron stage with bad-mouth jokes and bad-to-the-bone biker dress.
It was John Carney.
The place went wild, insiders getting the in-joke. Then out came Bad-Ass Jack himself to send Carney, the Democratic congressman people expect to be the next governor, retreating back into the wings where he still belongs -- "Bad-Ass Jack ain't done yet. This is my stage!" -- and to call after Carney with a double-edged zinger that nicked them both.
"Enjoy your pouffy hair while you can, because this is what it's going to look like after eight years!"
This saucy little setup was more than about laughs. It was about the way politics in a small state goes. Markell beats Carney in the primary for governor, and here they are, eight years later, doing comic shtick together.
It was also about transitions, and not just the one for governor, because transitions amounted to the theme of the evening.
This Gridiron might have been the last.
It has been going on for 25 years, so long ago that Republicans could actually get elected to high office here when it began, and its future is "to be determined," as the crowd of about 475 people was told Saturday at the Riverfront in Wilmington.
For now, though, the show had to go on.
Bad-Ass Jack entertained with punch line after punchline.
With a really flimsy explanation that he could tell "Yo Mama" jokes because Ted Cruz's mother was born in Delaware, he did:
"Yo Mama's so round, she went to Punkin' Chunkin' and they threw her."
"Yo Mama's so stupid, she thinks Trey Paradee is a fancy name for a threesome." (For the uninitiated, Trey Paradee is a Democratic state representative.)
Bad-Ass Jack did not miss his last chance to take a shot at some of the Legislative Hall types who have bugged the governor, most notably Valerie Longhurst, the Democratic majority leader in the state House of Representatives, and John Kowalko, the Democratic state representative whose politics could have Bernie Sanders calling him "Comrade Kowalko."
Bad-Ass Jack said, "I'm going to miss House Majority Leader Val Longhurst, because after nearly 26 years of happy marriage to Carla, I need Val to show me what it's like to be in a dysfunctional relationship with a woman who constantly berates me."
He also said, "I have a theory about Bernie Sanders. It's that John Kowalko is really Bernie Sanders in a clown wig. . . . Like Bernie, Kowalko even has his own ice cream. I haven't tried it. They tell me it's really bitter and nutty."
The skit that probably got the most laughs was on video. It showed a strange and slightly creepy trip to Legislative Hall in Dover by Rocky Bluewinkle, the mascot of the Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team.
Rocky Bluewinkle was moose mayhem with a Mickey Mouse voice that sounded vaguely familiar but could not quite be placed. As the camera followed him through the hallways, nobody knew who lurked inside this blue mischief-maker with a killer wit.
He nailed Colin Bonini, who is not just the Republican state senator running for governor, but also the legislator most likely never to miss a meal.
"When was the last time you saw a vegetable, big guy?" Rocky Bluewinkle squeaked.
Then the moose head came off, and the costumed comedian showed himself to be Matt Denn, the Democratic attorney general. The Gridiron crowd loved it.
As the evening wore on, its theme of transitions was increasingly personified by Lynda Maloney, the first lady of the Gridiron and once the first lady of Wilmington when Tom Maloney, her husband who died in 2000, was the mayor in the 1970s. Together, they were largely the inspiration for the Gridiron, which took shape during brainstorming sessions on their front porch.
No matter what follows, Lynda Maloney declared this Gridiron to be her last.
Political and generational transitions intertwined in a song she sang with Chris Maloney, her son who is also a Gridiron player, and Nina Gracie, her granddaughter, to the tune of "Bye Bye Love" from the Everly Brothers.
Bye-Bye, Jack Markell
We all wish you well
But now it's time to say good-bye
Bye-Bye, Guv, good-bye
Then it was time for Lynda Maloney's signature song, a final version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from "Evita," the musical. Year after year, she has turned it into a satire to skewer the mishaps of people, places and things, such as Fisker and Dennis Williams, the Democratic mayor forever missing in action, but this time it was a love song.
Don't cry for me, Tom Maloney
Gridiron is testimony
To your vision, and humor, too
For 25 years now, I've sung for you
I think I've said it all
There's nothing more I can think of
To say to you
We've had a helluva good time
We hope that you have, too
Don't cry for me? Yeh, right. There were some moist eyes in the hall after that one.
Lynda Maloney could be taking this political roast with her. Going, going, Gridiron?