Posted: Aug. 18, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

About the last thing anyone expects from a knock at the door is a candidate standing there. In August of an odd-numbered year? In this brutal summer heat?

Mad dogs and Englishmen and special election candidates, they are the ones out in the sweltering sun. David Bentz, a legislative aide, for the Democrats. Eileen O'Shaughnessy-Coleman, a special education advocate, for the Republicans.

Heat wave or no heat wave, there is a special election for a seat in the Delaware General Assembly on Saturday, Sept. 12.

It is being held to replace Mike Barbieri, a Democratic state representative who hey-diddle-diddle just ditched seven years of a legislative career and his constituents mid-term for a six-figure state job, like the dish running away with the spoon.

Not to mention the special election itself should cost the state $40,000 or $45,000 in the estimate of election officials.

So there they are, Bentz and O'Shaughnessy-Coleman, unglamorously plodding from door to door in search of voters in their unsung campaigns in an untimely election that has not exactly commanded public attention. The Donald and Hillary, this is not.

"They think I'm getting a really early start on next year," Bentz said.

"They want to know, what is your reason behind doing this and are you hot?" O'Shaughnessy-Coleman said.

Ready or not, it is an election and it is rounding into familiar form.

It has already had finance reports filed as of Monday -- he has about $15,000, mostly from Democratic legislators, and she has about $20,000, mostly from Republican legislators -- along with the standard-issue endorsements from the likes of Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, and the Delaware Education State Association for him and Ken Simpler, the Republican treasurer, for her.

This special election is set in the 18th Representative District on the outskirts of Newark, where I-95 and Delaware 1 and 273 funnel through and the Christiana Mall and Christiana Care complex are situated, and traffic and growth are major concerns.

The district is lopsidedly Democratic, so much so that the Republicans come in third, behind the voters who are unaffiliated with either major party, but registration is no guarantee with the notoriously low turnout of a special election, particularly here, where the state representative not so long ago was Terry Spence, a Republican speaker who served for 28 years.

"There's nothing easy about a special election," Markell said last week at a fund-raiser for Bentz in remarks posted on YouTube. "The good news in this race is this is an overwhelmingly Democratic district. The bad news is that doesn't make much difference in a special election."

The candidates are about as distinct as candidates can be, set apart not only by their party and gender, but by generation. Bentz is a Millennial at 29, and O'Shaughnessy-Coleman is one of the last of the Baby Boomers at 51.

They bring a host of differences to matters that have consumed Legislative Hall.

A big one is taxes with its classic Democrat/Republican divide. When Barbieri quit, he took with him the vote that had given the Democrats a margin of 25-16 in the state House of Representatives and let them pass tax bills there without any Republican support.

As Charlie Copeland, the Republican state chair, told a party gathering last month, "The super-majority hangs in the balance."

Another one is the "opt out" bill, intended to spell out the rights of parents to pull their children out of standardized testing in school. Markell vetoed it, and there could be an attempt at an override.

As both of the candidates noted, parents already have that right, but after making that point, they diverged. Bentz is inclined to vote for an override, and O'Shaughnessy-Coleman is against it.

There is also the "repeal" bill, which would ban the death penalty. For the second legislative session in a row, it has passed the state Senate but cannot get out of committee in the state House to come up for a vote.

Bentz is in favor of repeal, but he is leery of of any maneuvers to circumvent the committee system. This is not exactly unexpected from someone who worked as an aide under the House's Democratic leadership, which regards an end-run on the committee system as an assault bordering on the sacrilegious against its authority.

"I understand we have procedures in the House," Bentz said.

O'Shaughnessy-Coleman is still wrestling with her thinking on the death penalty, as she tries to puzzle out the proper punishment for the most heinous of crimes and her own respect for life.

"I'm kind of a cradle-to-graver," she said.

It has made O'Shaughnessy-Coleman pro-life, although she noted, how could she not be, when she and her two brothers are adopted? Therein lies another variance with Bentz, who declared himself "fully in favor of a women's right to choose."

What a lot of contrasts, not even counting what the candidates' names would mean to a roll call. Saying "Rep-re-sen-ta-tive-Da-vid-Bentz" is one thing. Saying "Rep-re-sen-ta-tive-Ei-leen-O-Shaugh-ness-y-Cole-man" could practically bring the place to a standstill.