Posted: June 6, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Give Brad Bennett credit. He spared the political system a lot of turmoil he could have forced on it.

When the Delaware General Assembly reconvened Tuesday in Dover after a break, Bennett was there for his first public sighting since he was ignominiously charged with drunken driving in April.

Not only was it is his second DUI stop in two years, but it happened in a dubious part of Wilmington and extended to charges of clipping a parked police car with an officer inside and scramming. Afterwards, he was banished to rehab in Havre de Grace in Maryland.

This was Bennett's first opportunity to return to the House of Representatives, where he is a second-term Democrat from the same Dover district that also sent his late father Ed Bennett, a dedicated and talented legislator who rose to be the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, to the chamber from 1976 to 1994.

It could not have been grimmer as Brad Bennett apologized to his colleagues and told them he intended to finish his term and then give up his seat.

"Those of us elected to public service are held to a higher standard in our daily lives. As a result of my actions, confidence in me has been questioned. For that I am sorry. I ask the citizens and you, my colleagues, for forgiveness," he said.

Bennett's words sounded choked but controlled until then, but as he invoked his father, he broke.

"My father loved this chamber. He taught me that public service and doing for others is the foundation of everything that makes a man. Mr. Speaker, with your indulgence and that of the House, I hope I can ensure the 32nd District is not without representation in the closing days, and I will retire and not seek re-election," Bennett said.

He spoke for just five minutes. The custom in both the House and the Senate is for members to speak from their desks, but he went to a lectern in the front of the chamber.

Bennett faced the other representatives and faced up to what he did and had to do, and afterwards, he went back to his desk and put his face down on its surface.

Although the House stood and applauded, it was a mark of Bennett's disgrace that not one representative followed his remarks with any of their own. He was comforted by their hugs, however, and by the presence of old friends who served with his father -- Nancy Cook as a senator, Bob Maxwell as a representative and Mike Harkins as a secretary of state -- and his mother Judy.

The outcome was the one the political system wanted. By promising to depart, Bennett freed the House from any onus of having him there and freed the Democratic Party to find a new candidate.

It also silenced any possible dead-enders who might have demanded that Bennett resign immediately, and even if he did resign, it is close enough to the end of the legislative session on June 30 that no special election would have to be called.

Give the House and the Democratic Party credit, too. Behind the scenes, there was unspoken agreement to give Bennett enough space and time until he could be brought to conclude his only choice was to do what he did. It was not tough love, but stern mercy.

Besides, if Bennett is convicted of this second DUI, he has to go to jail.

"He handled the situation as well as he could have handled it," said Bob Gilligan, the House's Democratic speaker.

Bennett's exit puts the 32nd Representative District in political play. Although the registration favors the Democrats, who have 49 percent of the voters, the district was represented in between Ed Bennett and Brad Bennett by Donna Stone, a Republican.

Whatever happens, it is unlikely to matter to the control of the House, where the Democrats outnumber the Republicans by 26-15.

The Republicans already recruited Ellis Parrott, a former Dover policeman and retired justice of the peace, although he faces a primary from Will McVay, who ran for the seat in 2010 as a Libertarian. McVay had actually tried to file with the Libertarians, the Democrats and the Republicans, but the major parties took him to court and got him kicked off their ballots. He got 6 percent of the vote.

The Democrats, who sat tight as they waited out Bennett's decision, can look openly for another candidate now.

Bennett's leave-taking of the House turned out to be something Shakespearean, as the playwright himself wrote:

Very frankly he confessed his treasons,

Implored . . . pardon and set forth

A deep repentance. Nothing in his life

Became him like the leaving it.

Bennett is going. He leaves behind a damaged police car, an open seat and a lot of relief.