Posted: Sept. 1, 2011
SIXTEEN MILES ON THE C & D CANAL
By Celia Cohen
Delaware must think it has four members in its congressional delegation or two governors, it is kind of hard to tell which.
There they were in a row, a high-powered lineup of John Carney, Chris Coons, Mike Castle, Jack Markell and Tom Carper, assembled Thursday afternoon along the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal under the Saint Georges Bridge.
They came to mark the start of the construction of a joint federal-state project to create a recreational trail stretching bay-to-bay from Delaware City to Chesapeake City in Maryland.
Who got the most attention for these 16 miles on the C & D Canal? Castle. It was eerie.
Castle, the Republican ex-congressman and ex-governor, was the only one out of office. Nearly a year after the Tea Party Republicans blew up politics here by tossing him aside for Christine O'Donnell in the Senate primary, the state is still in denial.
It was particularly apparent because the rest of them -- Markell, the governor, and the federal delegation of Carper and Coons, the two senators, and Carney, the congressman -- are all Democrats, and they still invited Castle.
"He was on everybody's list," Markell said.
Only in Delaware would an all-Democratic leadership make room for a Republican gone from public life. Especially if it meant sharing credit.
"People in the caucus inevitably ask me, who did I follow in D.C.?" Carney said. "I say, Mike Castle. Everybody to a person will say, oh Mike Castle, we love Mike Castle. My own Democratic caucus!"
This may be the problem. If more Republicans had felt that way, Castle would be a senator today instead of Coons.
It was not window dressing to include Castle at this event. As a congressman, he proposed the trail in 2004, but back as far as his time as governor from 1985 to 1993, he worked on ways to get more people to more outdoor spots.
"I had sort of sensed there just was not enough recreation open land in Delaware then," he said.
Carper noted a historical link. Benjamin Franklin envisioned a system of canals for the new Republic, and Castle is his direct descendant. This is really true.
"People will come here. They will use it," Castle said.
There was an old-time Philadelphia political boss named Pete Camiel, a hard-boiled, crap-shooting, chain-smoking Democrat who lived at an estate called Fatlands -- no fooling -- and once said, "There is nothing as useless as a former mayor, a former officeholder, a former candidate, a former anything."
Delaware has yet to notice.