Posted: July 1, 2010


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Someone turned the bust of Russell Peterson toward the corner wall, just as it has happened in past years on June 30 in Legislative Hall.

It is like the cognac and roses that turned up for so long on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe.

Things go bump in the night on June 30, when the Delaware General Assembly leaves Dover for the year, although never before the clock ticks into the early hours of July 1.

Deadlines and sleep deprivation. What a way to run a government.

Russell Peterson is part of the general silliness. He was the Republican governor from 1969 to 1973, although he became a Democrat a couple of decades later. Past governors have their portraits painted, expect for Peterson, who had a bust done by Charles Parks, the noted sculptor from Delaware.

It is a mystery why a governor would want to be remembered as a bust, but Peterson is. Whatever, it makes for an easy prank on June 30, although not for long.

The sculpture was face front after several hours. No one puts Russell Peterson in the corner.

Not counting Peterson's annual about-face, the end of the two-year legislative term seemed more subdued than usual, and it had a right to.

The first year was absorbed with a monstrous budget hole brought on by the Great Recession, and the second half was colored by the monstrous case of Earl Bradley, the pediatrician accused of sexually preying on his patients while the government and medical profession slept.

If there is a lasting image from this June 30, it is the bill-signing ceremony for nine new laws compelled by the Bradley case, the state's way of saying, "Never again."

This was not a typical bill-signing ceremony. It was not held in the governor's office but outside on Legislative Hall's east steps, where a lectern and a desk were set up. Rows of legislators stood behind them, as though they were lined up for a class picture, but no one was smiling.

"Usually bill signings are an opportunity to celebrate. That's not why we're here today. Today we come together with heavy hearts and solemn thoughts over one of the great tragedies in our state's history," said Jack Markell, the Democratic governor.

"It is customary after a bill signing to applaud. I ask that there be no applause today."

The ceremony had the air of a formal apology. The grim face of Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general, was a thunderous shade of copper as he looked on. Cathy Cloutier, a Republican state senator, said, "The governor ran it like a funeral."

June 30 is notorious for legislative shenanigans, but they also were down this year, primarily because of a new Freedom of Information Act.

The open-government law was long advocated by Karen Peterson, a Democratic state senator, but it languished until Bob Gilligan became the speaker when the Democrats took over the House of Representatives last year, and he gave it the clout it needed. The two legislators go way back, to the days Gilligan was Peterson's basketball coach at St. Elizabeth High School in Wilmington.

The new law meant there was less opportunity for legislators to play hide-and-go-seek.

It led to the detection of suspicious language in the grant-in-aid bill unfriendly to special education programs. There was a tense showdown behind the scenes, threatening the passage of the bill that gives money to volunteer fire departments, senior centers and other community agencies, but the language did get changed.

The grant-in-aid bill was passed shortly before two in the morning, the last action standing in the way of a ride home. Freedom of Information ruled.

In the depths of night, the legislature was in the dark, not the public.