Posted: Aug. 8, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper came together again Saturday evening at a fund-raiser for the Stonewall Democrats in Rehoboth Beach, not very long after they infamously crossed paths and swords in late July at the Delaware State Fair.

Watching them was something like watching the candidates at Return Day, the celebration in Georgetown on the Thursday after an election, when the winners and losers are thrown together in a parade to close out the campaign hostilities.

The candidates almost always have that game expression that is meant to show they have gotten over their disputatiousness, the way they are supposed to. Carper and Minner, both old hands at Return Day, have that look down pat.

Observing them nearly overshadowed the real double bill for the event -- appearances by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Chrissy Gephardt, the daughter of U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Frank and Chrissy Gephardt, two of the best-known figures in gay politics, drew a crowd of more than 300 people to a private home along Silver Lake for the second annual fund-raiser of the state's Stonewall Democrats, a chapter of a national organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender party members.

The governor and the senator were not together for very long. Minner did what she usually does at political gatherings -- which is, arrive early and stay afterwards. Carper did what he usually does -- which is, be overscheduled and show up just before the event is supposed to end.

In this case Carper was in Colorado earlier in the day to campaign for Ken Salazar, a Senate candidate, then flew back east and went to a wedding beforehand. He walked in just as Barney Frank, the last speaker, seemed to be running out of ways to stall for time for him.

As Carper spoke, he included a reference to Minner by asking her whether she knew Betty Castor, a Senate candidate in Florida. Minner nodded.

Later the two were available for photographs. They posed together with Carper's arm around Minner, their Return Day smiles outshining the episode at Governor's Day at the fair, when rightly or wrongly he was said to try to upstage her by wanting to speak and she was said to put him down by not introducing him.

The fair looks as though it will live on in Delaware political lore as the moment the mask slipped. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Through eight shared years as governor and lieutenant governor, before Carper was elected to the Senate and Minner to the governorship in 2000, it was an open secret that their rosy public affection was more of an affectation.

Governor's Day was like Copernicus when he said the earth moved around the sun. Of course it was true, only no one had wanted to see it before.

So the Stonewall Democrats had a jolly evening. Barney Frank was as full of zingers this year as he was last year, when he also headlined the event. Like the other speakers, he focused on gay rights and the economy, not on the matters of national security that appear to be driving the presidential election.

Frank panned the Republican administration's economic policies. "George Bush deserves kind of a double Nobel prize," he said. "They have a Nobel prize for fiction, and they have a Nobel prize for economics. He deserves a Nobel prize for fictional economics."

Frank also jabbed ironically at the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality, noting that he was elected to replace U.S. Rep. Robert F. Drinan, a priest who left politics because of a church prohibition against clergy in office.

"As a consequence of the Pope's decision, I became a congressman," Frank quipped.

Carper, who had not attended the Stonewall event a year ago, reprised a story that Frank told then, about the two of them as congressman on a Middle East trip at the end of 1983.

Carper was single. Frank was in the closet. Carper found them dates for a New Year's Eve party, bulling right through Frank's reluctance to spend it with a woman who happened to be from his Massachusetts district.

The next morning Carper asked Frank how it went.

"You know, I would have liked her brother better," Frank said.

"You know her brother?" Carper asked.

"Boy, you are dumb," Frank said and explained why.

Minner earned applause for her support for what is universally known as House Bill 99, a gay anti-discrimination bill that was approved by the state House of Representatives but bottled up in the state Senate.

"Every one of us here, we have a dedicated effort to get House Bill 99," she said. "We have to get it passed, get equality in the workplace and move on."

Minner noted that she had experienced some aspersions of inferiority herself, coming from her campaign for governor when people told her she was running for a man's job.

Not to mention what it is like for an ex-lieutenant governor when her governor is around.