Posted: Feb. 7, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

A New Castle County Democratic Party fund-raiser, held Thursday night, turned into a police report.

When state Sen. Karen E. Peterson was ready to leave, she discovered the two right tires slashed on her Toyota Camry with its easily identifiable, gold  "K.E.P." legislative license plate.

The political event was held in Peterson's 9th Senatorial District at the Plumbers & Pipefitters union hall on Newport Pike near Newport. Peterson endured a rancorous Democratic primary election that split the labor vote, and Victoria "Vikki" Bandy, the campaign manager for Peterson, blamed the malicious mischief on lingering bad blood.

"They need to grow the hell up and get over it," Peterson said.

The evening had begun in wry humor. It was a rescheduled event that had been snowed out during the December holiday season, and with snow predicted for later that night, New Castle County Democratic Chairman John D. Daniello was taking some ribbing, including a suggestion that he schedule the next holiday party for Christmas Eve, so at least there could be a White Christmas.

After the vandalism, however, Daniello's mood turned black. He was so infuriated he said he didn't trust himself to comment. Bandy said Daniello took $80 from his pocket to cover the towing costs for Peterson's car.

Kenneth W. Boulden Jr., the New Castle County Democratic clerk of the peace, offered Peterson and Bandy a ride to retrieve another vehicle and also some advice they took to heart.

"He said, no matter how many tires they slash, she's still the senator," Bandy said.

The state police came out to investigate, and whoever was responsible faces a raft of charges, if caught. Bandy said the charges included intimidation, reckless endangering, terroristic threatening, harassment and assault.

A trooper initially thought the brake line had been cut, along with the tires, because of fluid under the car, but a mechanic who inspected the car later said it was intact, Bandy said.

The 9th Senatorial District has seen the rougher side of politics before. In the 1982 election, the Republican candidate's pet rabbit, named Gonzo, was found dead in its cage outside the house. There was union rivalry in that race, too.

Peterson's emergence in the district has been rather eventful. A former two-term New Castle County Council president, she walked away from elected office in 1988 and focused on her administrative job in the state Labor Department. Although accounts differ on a cause, she was replaced as director of the Division of Industrial Affairs shortly after Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a fellow Democrat, took office in 2001.

It impelled Peterson to try for the Senate seat being vacated by President Pro Tem Thomas B. Sharp, a Democrat who represented the district since 1974. She faced Timothy P. Shelton, who was backed by Minner and her labor allies, but Peterson pulled off a victory with labor ties of her own, including her father, retired AFL-CIO President Edward F. "Pete" Peterson.

Peterson polled 56 percent in the primary and won the general election against Republican Kevin L. Wilkes by winning 58 percent of the vote.

In her first weeks as a senator, Peterson discovered new fallout from the primary. Sharp, who backed Shelton, had drained his legislative roadwork account of $457,716. Not only had Sharp left her nothing, but some of the projects he financed were outside the district and benefited the vicinity of his summer home in Fenwick Island. There were, for example, improvements for the Fenwick Island Light House and street repaving in Keen-wik, where Sharp has his house.

With the latest incident, Peterson's travails clearly are continuing. Her car was parked on the perimeter of the union hall's lot. Next time, maybe Peterson should park under a light.