Posted: Jan. 9, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

In a stunning reversal, state Insurance Commissioner Donna Lee Williams announced Friday she would not seek a fourth term to the office she first won in 1992, sending shock waves through her fellow Republicans and the Delaware political establishment.

Williams, a Dover attorney before entering politics, dropped her bombshell in a press release, saying, "I firmly believe that this decision is in the best interests of both the people of Delaware and my family. I have accomplished many of the goals I set for this department, and I am proud of the fact that I am leaving it and Delaware's insurance stakeholders in a better position than when I arrived."

In a telephone interview later, Williams said her decision came after weeks of introspection. She said she had no idea what she would do next -- other than talk to her daughter's fourth-grade teacher about becoming the "room mom for the class."

Williams' announcement ricocheted quickly through the state's politicians, but their public reaction was subdued or non-existent. Republican Party officials were unavailable for comment.

Williams was expected to face a tough re-election campaign. She made her decision known the week after Matthew P. Denn, a Democrat seeking his party's nomination for insurance commissioner, announced he had raised $123,000 for his campaign.

Williams also had detractors within the Republican Party, and she won her last race in 2000 by only 53 percent of the vote against an under-funded challenger, Karen Weldin Stewart, who also has said she plans to run again in 2004.

Williams said she was not getting out because of political concerns. "I'm not making this decision because I don't think I can win. I honestly believe that if I set my mind to be elected to a fourth term, that it would happen. I never thought of myself as a career politician. It's time for me to put my family first," she said.

While the Republicans are left temporarily with a vacancy on their ballot, there is apparently at least one potential candidate waiting in the wings. Jeffrey E. Cragg, the New Castle County Republican co-chairman who is a businessman with insurance interests, has been mentioned for months in party circles as a possible alternative to Williams.

He said Friday afternoon he was open to running. "I'm considering it, very interested in it and looking for direction from the party," Cragg said.