Posted: Sept. 29, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Hugging might have gotten a bad name in Delaware politics.

It would be Dennis Williams' fault. He campaigned to be the Democratic mayor of Wilmington by saying he would not be hugging thugs, and then he kind of did it by stiff-arming a whole host of people who wanted to help the city with its crime-fighting.

They included Jack Markell, the governor from Williams' own party, Beau Biden and Matt Denn, two attorney generals in a row from his own party, and the state legislature, where the leadership is also from his own party. Not good.

No surprise what happened on Primary Day. The city voters told the mayor to go hug himself.

Enter James Spadola. No hugging in politics? This guy was born to hug.

Spadola is a rookie candidate for state senator, one of the Millennials the Republicans are fielding in their crusade of a campaign to take over the legislature's upper chamber for the first time in 43 years. Spadola's assignment is Harris McDowell, a Democratic state senator with 40 years in Dover, in a seriously Democratic district stretching from Wilmington northwards to Claymont.

Spadola got the hug bug as a Newark police officer. He walked along Main Street in 2015 with another officer, both of them holding signs reading, "Free Hugs" and "#HugACop," and then put all of the hugging on Facebook. It went viral and won an award for a community policing photo from the U.S. Justice Department for demonstrating how to "protect and embrace."

If it was good for policing, maybe it could be good for politicking.

Spadola collected Mike Castle, the Republican ex-governor-and-congressman, and Ken Simpler, the Republican state treasurer, and took them along to the Brandywine Arts Festival earlier this month to give out free Republican hugs.

It was the same deal -- signs saying "Free Hugs" and "#HugARepublican" -- to be posted at on Spadola's Web site as a short campaign video, which includes Castle memorably saying, "I'm not running for anything." 

As confirmed a hugger as Spadola is, his video shows him in no way inclined to wrap himself around Republican orthodoxy. Naturally this is smart politics from someone trying to get elected in a district where the voter registration is 57 percent Democratic, but Spadola also regards it as more than that.

As he says in his video, "I think we have an image problem right now. I think there's a new sort of Republican, especially with my generation, that wants the government out of the bedroom, out of the bathroom, to focus on fighting crime, bringing in good jobs and improving education. To me, that's what the Republican Party should be about, not necessarily what we're about right now."

Huggery, not humbuggery.

# # #

The state's political circles could be excused if they missed the obituary for Richard Korn's mother.

Sylvia Korn, who was supposed to be living out her days quietly, was dragged unceremoniously into the public eye as a mother who was sued by her own son.

Richard Korn took his mother to court in 2013 after she cut him off from helping himself to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it backfired on him when a judge told him to pay a lot of it back.

Instead, it just showed Richard Korn to be as much of a spectacle legally as he was politically, a serial candidate who moved to Delaware from New York and ran futilely as a Democrat for New Castle County executive, state legislator and state auditor here after he struck out in politics there.

Sylvia Korn died at 96 on Sept. 9. Her obituary noted she was survived by a daughter and two granddaughters. For some reason or other, it mentioned Richard not at all.