Posted: July 6, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Thomas C. Maloney always was known for his sense of humor, and it is a good thing.

A statue of Wilmington's Democratic mayor, who served one term from 1973 to 1977, was unveiled last Thursday, four years to the month after he died too soon at 58, his bronze likeness overlooking the Market Street Mall that was the signature project of his administration.

Except now the city is ripping up the mall. Barricades, stretchy orange fencing and dust, dust and more dust were the decorations for the ceremony, as Market Street was transformed from the pedestrian walkway that Maloney created to revitalize the city and returned to the street traffic he had banished.

"What goes around, comes around. The irony is not lost on any of us," said J. Brian Murphy, a city economic development consultant who got his start in politics as a go-fer for Maloney.

Call it a practical joke for the ages. No doubt Maloney would have.

He was a ukulele-strumming, show tune-singing, party-throwing mayor, who took over the city when it was low and lifted it through his policies and his own exuberant 30-year-old personality.

One of the things Maloney delighted in was practical jokes. His most notorious was to disguise his voice and telephone someone, like the time he called U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., his friend and fellow Democrat, and pretended to be Jimmy Carter.

When Maloney died in 2000, his friends could not bear to see the last of him. They wanted him in bronze. "It took two years to raise the money. It took another two years to decide what to do with it," Murphy cracked.

Along with Lynda R. Maloney, the former first lady who was involved in her husband's merry-making to the hilt, Murphy took the lead on the statue. They raised about $115,000 in contributions to commission the work by Charles Parks, the famed sculptor with the studio on the banks of the Brandywine River. Murphy also sorted out the permits to get the statue in place next to the Grand Opera House, another of Maloney's projects.

At Parks' direction, the blue sheeting came off the statue. It happened on what was the 30th anniversary of the day Maloney climbed a ladder truck, symbolically beginning the painting for the Grand's restoration.

About 150 "City People" -- to use the name for Maloney's old political organization -- attended the unveiling for their first look at the permanent tribute to their friend, all seven-and-a-half feet and 750 pounds of him.

The statue, based on a photograph of Maloney on the mall, shows him smiling with his head tilted up a bit, his jacket slung over his shoulder. Appropriately enough, the statue stands on a pedestal engraved with lines from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: Think where man's glory most begins and ends/And say my glory was I had such friends.

There was some question among the onlookers about how much the statue looked like Maloney, but there was no question about the sentiment.

The crowd was full of family -- Lynda Maloney, of course, with her son, her daughter and son-in-law and 13-month-old granddaughter among them. It was also filled with people who knew Maloney when he was the mayor, people like Mayor James M. Baker, who was a Democratic councilman then, Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, who was the Kent County Democratic chairman when Maloney ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976, Alex J. Smalls, the Court of Common Pleas chief judge who was an assistant city solicitor, and state Finance Secretary David W. Singleton, who was the city planner.

"I thank you all for being friends of Tom Maloney. I thank you all for remaining mine," Lynda Maloney said.

Afterwards she said she would like to invite everyone back for the statue's first anniversary. Well, maybe she did not mean "everyone."

Among the crowd was New Castle County Executive Thomas P. Gordon, the two-term Democrat recently indicted on federal corruption charges. In better days the county did donate $5,000 for the statue, but these days Lynda Maloney and her sister are suing Gordon, alleging they were forced out of their county jobs for cooperating in the federal investigation.

Gordon's appearance at the unveiling was quite the talk. "Only in Delaware," Lynda Maloney said.