Posted: Sept. 28, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The only real reason to go to state Treasurer Jack A. Markell's announcement was to find out what office he was announcing for.

It was treasurer. Ho hum. It had not been out of the question that he would try to get a jump on 2008. Twenty years ago, former Gov. Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont chose September 1986 to declare he would run for the Republican nomination for president in 1988.

In these days of the seemingly perpetual campaigns, almost anything goes, but Markell, a Democrat, insistently is running for treasurer against Esthelda R. "Stell" Parker Selby, a retired educator the Republicans put up with less money than they would give to a decent legislative race, apparently so Markell would have someone classy and brave to wave to on his way to a third term for the office he won in 1998.

Markell is nothing if not methodical, just like that other guy, the one who has been sitting around patiently as lieutenant governor since 2000, also waiting for the governorship to come open in 2008.

The two of them, Markell and Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., appear to be methodically on course to clash over the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in what could go down as the most famous inter-party contest since Delaware switched from conventions to primaries for choosing statewide nominees in 1970.

Better than the Democratic battle, where there are still hard feelings, between John D. Daniello and Samuel L. Shipley for the 1970 congressional nomination, better than the Republican rumble between Gov. Russell W. Peterson and David P. Buckson for governor in 1972, better because Daniello and Peterson won their primaries but were doomed to lose the general election, and Markell or Carney can win.

In the meantime, Markell has this nice little race to run for treasurer, so he took the official announcement tour on Thursday to declare his candidacy with a Sussex County stop in Georgetown, a Kent County stop in Dover and a New Castle County stop in Wilmington.

It seemed superfluous, considering that Markell nearly is finished working his way -- methodically! -- through all 41 representative districts in a "Get to Know Jack" tour he began in March and also bicycled the state from north to south in "Jack's Tour de Delaware" in August. Delaware candidates, however, are supposed to take statewide announcement tours, so Markell did.

He said he delayed it because he was waiting for the Republicans to come up with a candidate. Parker Selby did not sign the filing papers until Aug. 31, the next-to-the-last-day that the political parties were allowed to fill vacancies on their tickets.

"I didn't have an opponent for a long time, and we wanted to get people energized after we had an opponent, and I had a feeling one was coming," Markell said.

The Republicans at least are going through the motions of taking this campaign seriously. They sent a mole to watch Markell's announcement speech.

As methodical as Markell is -- he married the (Newark) high school sweetheart, went to the (Brown) Ivy League college, had the daughter and son and made a fortune as a telecommunications executive before getting into politics -- he also likes creative things that are clever and even silly.

He made up the name "Nextel" and composes poems in a Dr. Seuss-like style he delivers in honor of people, once writing verses about Insurance Commissioner Matthew P. Denn, a fellow Democrat, and managing to rhyme "insurance" with "endurance."

On the announcement tour, Markell gave a speech that lasted almost 20 minutes -- probably long for a candidate for treasurer, about right for one practicing for a gubernatorial campaign.

"In Delaware, everyone knows that we're in this together. Our sense of community defines us and strengthens us. That's why today it's such an honor to stand before you to formally announce my bid for re-election and ask for your support," Markell said.

For the crowd of about 100 people at the Delaware Theatre Company at the Wilmington Riverfront, the biggest applause line seemed to be the one that was a sly dig at Carney, regarded as the insider candidate.

"Eight years ago, when I first ran for public office, many people said the same thing as they said about our efforts to build Nextel -- that somebody who wasn't a political insider couldn't win.

"Yet today I stand before you, still a proud Democrat with a fierce independent streak in terms of the approach we bring to state government, believing that there is much more to be done, that this is still a job worth fighting for, and I'm proud that you're here with me," Markell said.

Markell was characteristically unswerving in his determination to stick to today's task today and leave tomorrow's for tomorrow. Asked in a brief interview whether he intended to serve a four-year term without running for another office, he smiled delightedly at the cat-and-mouse political game and said, "I'm focused on this race. I'll take it from there after that."

Maybe it was not coincidental that one of Markell's well-wishers was Russ Peterson, now a Democrat, the governor who had that famous primary 34 years ago.

Someone in the Wilmington crowd confessed to wanting to start a chant, "'08! '08!" but did not. It is only a matter of time, though, no doubt on Return Day, the biennial celebration on the Thursday after the election in Georgetown.

Then the real reason for going to Return Day on Nov. 9 will be to find out whether it is Markell's crowd or Carney's with the loudest chant of "'08! '08! '08!"