Posted: Aug. 24, 2012


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

When people show up wearing their colors to a candidates night, everybody knows what is going to happen. Political rumBLE!

The crowd was brightened by plumes of T-shirts --  white ones with a patriotic star-spangled-banner motif for Nick Manolakos, radiant lemon-colored ones for the Fraternal Order of Police with Tom Gordon stickers, more white ones with Paul Clark's blue and green campaign logo, dark green ones for Bill Shahan.

Also one red Phillies T-shirt, which did not count.

What should have been a sleepy summer night in Hockessin instead had a little ripple of forbidden zest to it, the enticement of a political forum with the election bearing down on candidates who are shedding the niceties and anything goes.

It was enough to bring out almost 200 people on the pretense of doing their civic duty but actually looking for something more, kind of like showing up for a book club where everyone is supposed to be seriously discussing Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography but being pretty sure the talk will get around to Fifty Shades of Grey.

They came Monday evening to the Hockessin fire hall, where the Greater Hockessin Area Development Association, a community group informally known as GHADA, was hosting the candidates in the Democratic primaries for New Castle County executive and council president and the local Republican primary for state representative, all to be settled Primary Day on Sept. 11.

"Nothing gets people out like a good old-fashioned debate," Manolakos quipped.

First there was the undercard with Manolakos and Joe Miro, the Republican state representatives duking it out for a single seat because theirs were combined by redistricting. The winner can essentially count on going back to Dover from this Republican district against Dave Ellis, a Democrat defeated 2-1 by Miro the last time.

Manolakos, younger and still working as an assistant principal at A.I. du Pont High School, has been in the state House of Representatives for six years. Miro, a retired teacher who is a full-time legislator, has been there for 14 years. They sounded like the political version of the old show tune, anyone-you-represent-I-can-represent-better.

"It's been expressed to me, they feel Joe is losing touch with the communities," Manolakos said.

"I am very much in touch with the community," Miro said.

Next up were the Democratic candidates for council president -- Chris Bullock, who is the pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle, and Renee Taschner, a retired county police officer.

Not to discourage Mike Protack, the Republican candidate who was there to watch, but no Republican has been elected council president since 1988, and by the way, more than half the county voters are registered Democrats.

Bullock and Taschner tried to make a show of friendship, but it did not last. Taschner took exception when Bullock mentioned meeting her at a doughnut shop -- "He fed right into the cliche of officers and Dunkin' Donuts" -- and Bullock took exception when Taschner reminded people he used to be a Republican, which he was.

The legislative and council president races were but prologue, however, for the Democratic primary for county executive. This is the one people came to see.

It has two politically scarred candidates who detest each other so much, they are living reminders why dueling is outlawed.

It has Paul Clark, the accidental incumbent, whose life swerved when Chris Coons vaulted mid-term from Democratic county executive to U.S. senator. Not only did Clark move up from council president, but his higher profile finally forced Pam Scott, his wife, to give up her much-criticized law practice in land use.

It has Tom Gordon, a former two-term county executive whose tenure ended in a messy federal corruption investigation. He pleaded to two misdemeanors, which winged him politically but failed to take him out.

It also has the deep resentment in this part of the county for expansive office and shopping projects approved for Stoltz real estate at Barley Mill Plaza and Greenville Place, projects whose lawyer was once Pam Scott.

Not that people notice much, but the race has other candidates, too. John Husband and Bill Shahan, both county workers, are running in the Democratic primary, and there is also Mark Blake, a Republican trying hail-Mary style for an office his party has not won since 1984. He showed up to be seen, even though he was not invited to be heard, at the GHADA event.

It was the attack of the talking heads. Gordon jumped Clark, and he had side boys. Husband and Shahan piled on Clark, too. They pounded him about Stoltz. Then they pounded him about Stoltz. When they were finished with that, they pounded him about Stoltz.

Gordon told the crowd, "You're not going to get out of your driveways. His wife was the attorney."

Husband chimed in, "There's a thing called community character, and that Stoltz property is not community character."

Shahan summarized, "We have to improve the public image of this county."

Three against one, Clark argued back that the voters knew what his wife did for a living when he was elected council president, and besides, "There's a direct relationship between job creation and land use."

Oh what a night, and not all the action was inside. There was a popup storm outside, and it turned campaign literature left on windshields into a soggy mush that stuck like papier-mache. Not good.

The weather matters in politics. The literature was unreadable beyond noting it appeared to be anti-Gordon. For anyone looking for a way to pull votes from him, this was not it.