Posted: April 15, 2004


Republicans run another rookie

The New Castle County Republicans are continuing to bet that the voters are impatient enough with the Punch-and-Judy show that is county government to turn to newly-minted candidates.

The Republicans already announced Christopher J. Castagno, whose only political experience is the New Castle City Council, for county executive, and now they have come forward with someone even greener for County Council president.

The candidate is Ernesto B. Lopez -- "Ernie" to the voters -- a 27-year-old Newark resident who is an admissions officer at the University of Delaware. He declared his candidacy Tuesday before about 100 well-wishers at the Embassy Suites in Newark.

Lopez, who wears his heart on his sleeve, his tie, his watch and simply everywhere, smiled, hugged, shook hands and kissed his way through the crowd with the exuberance and high hopes of someone who never has been sucker-punched in politics. If anybody did not already know that Lopez has yet to be elected to county government, it would have been clear then.

"Ernie is exactly the right type of citizen-legislator we need in county government," said state Sen. Liane M. Sorenson, the Republican minority whip who introduced Lopez and delivered the campaign theme. "He has infectious enthusiasm which is sorely needed."

While it may be tactical politics for the Republicans to be fielding brave, new candidates, the party really does not have much of a choice. County government has belonged to the Democrats, so the experience is on the other side. The Republicans have not elected an executive or council president since the 1980s, and the current council has a Democratic majority of 5-2.

At Lopez's announcement, the room was studded with Republican Party officials, including state Chairman Terry A. Strine and New Castle County Co-chairman Thomas S. Ross, along with a number of officeholders, even though Lopez is facing a primary from Gary L. Bowman, who ran unsuccessfully for the nomination four years ago.

The party hierarchy generally is expected to show some restraint when there is a primary, but in this case they preferred to show Bowman that he ought to get out of the way. "If he [Lopez] has a primary, so be it. He will win," said state Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, who spoke at the announcement.

Whatever happens on the Republican side, the Democrats seem certain to have a fight for council president. It is currently a three-way race with Paul G. Clark, Penrose Hollins and Dianne M. Kempski and no obvious front-runner among them.

Despite rookie status, Lopez has absorbed something of politics from being around Charles E. "Pete" Hughes, his wife's grandfather who was a state senator and county councilman, and William V. Roth Jr., the U.S. senator whom Lopez befriended, before their recent deaths. In fact, Lopez wore old campaign buttons from Hughes and Roth during his announcement.

Lopez's speech was straight from the script. "Politics is too important to be left to politicians and perennial candidates," he said.

Believe it or not, the "Roth" campaign button did not fall off when he said it.

Rifles and Republicans in Kent County

Wearing a badge at one time or another may not be a requirement for the Kent County Republican chairman, but it is hard to tell from the recent changeover in leadership.

Patrick W. Murray, the current chairman, is stepping down June 1 to run for the Levy Court. He is a former FBI agent who also was the public safety secretary in the Castle administration. (Naturally, as ex-FBI, he also worked for a time at MBNA.)

John C. Sigler was unopposed last week in a vote to succeed Murray and serve the last three years of a four-year term. Sigler used to be a captain in the Dover Police Department. Then he became a lawyer and works as general counsel for Psychotherapeutic Services, a mental-health care provider.

What the two men really may have in common is what they took from their shared background -- and what works in politics, too. "Organization is the key to everything," Murray said.

Sigler is going to need those organizational skills. In addition to his new Republican assignment, he has work to do as the second vice president of the National Rifle Association.

If he continues moving up the line there, Sigler could become the NRA president in 2007. In the meantime, he has the Kent County Republicans to run.

"The coach retired in mid-season. When the coach retires in mid-season, it's time for a new coach to step up," Sigler said. "It was the right thing to do at the right time."