Posted: Jan, 23, 2004




The day after Gov. Ruth Ann Minner declared she would veto a bill trying to roll back the size of the New Castle County Council, her delighted fellow Democrats were well on their way to recruiting a full slate of candidates in the six new districts.

Five candidates were either already up and running or leaning that way by the time the county Democrats met Wednesday evening at state party headquarters in New Castle.

"We've got a governor who has supported the party better than any other governor. Yesterday's statement is a typical example of what I'm talking about," said John D. Daniello, the Democrats' county chairman.

 Because of Minner's promised veto, the County Council will expand with this election from seven members to 13 members, from six districts and a council president to 12 districts and a council president.

The Democrats have a 5-2 majority on the current council, and they used that muscle to draw new districts they believe could as much as double their numbers. The Republican majority in the state House of Representatives on Tuesday managed to send to the governor a bill that would keep the council at seven members, but Minner swiftly said she would veto it and appears to have the clout to make it stick.

The county Democrats rewarded Minner by voting to endorse her. Not that it was in doubt.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, names have yet to surface for the new County Council seats. The party is focused more on the top of the county ticket, where it hopes to capitalize on the turmoil and intrigue surrounding Democratic County Executive Thomas P. Gordon's administration to capture posts it last won in the 1980s.

Republicans expect Christopher J. Castagno, the New Castle City Council president, to run for county executive, and they are on their way to sorting out the field for council president. Paul J. Pomeroy, the Newark Republican Region vice chairman, emerged as the likeliest candidate after Wilmington Councilman Paul T. Bartkowski decided not to run.

Democrats are unsettled at the top of their county ticket. County Council President Christopher A. Coons and County Chief Administrative Officer Sherry L. Freebery both are in the running for county executive, and there are three candidates interested in the council presidency.

As of now, the Democrats do not have any potential primaries for the district seats, where this lineup appears to be coming together:

George D. Smiley in a New Castle-Christiana area district split from Democratic Councilman J. Robert Woods; John Cartier in a Brandywine Hundred-Edgemoor area district split from Republican Councilman Robert S. Weiner; Timothy P. Sheldon, considering a race in a Newark-Pike Creek Valley-Hockessin area district split from Republican Councilman William J. Tansey; Wilmington Councilman Norman M. Oliver, considering a race in a Wilmington-Elsmere-New Castle area district split from Democratic Councilman Penrose Hollins; and David L. Tackett in a Newark-Glasgow area district split from Democratic Councilwoman Karen G. Venezky.

The Democrats have yet to find a candidate for a new district in lower New Castle County, extending from New Castle south through Delaware City and below the canal. Previously it was represented by Democratic Councilwoman Patty W. Powell.

The Democrats are sounding like a party that expects to make the most of these open seats. As Coons put it, "There's every reason we ought to win five out of six County Council seats, and frankly, six out of six."

The Republicans are only too aware that the Democrats are massing, and they fear it could have ramifications beyond the County Council. State Rep. Roger P. Roy, a Limestone Hills Republican, said as much Friday evening at a dinner for his district at the Hockessin Memorial Hall.

"The governor is looking at this, I'm sure, from a pure political perspective. She wants to get the vote out in New Castle County," Roy said. "We're going to need every vote, or we're going to get wiped out on a statewide basis."

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Dover Republican Peter K. Schaeffer spent seven days thinking he might run for insurance commissioner but decided against it.

Schaeffer started to put together a campaign immediately after Insurance Commissioner Donna Lee Williams, a three-term Republican, stunned the party by announcing Jan. 9 she was getting out of politics.

Within a week, however, Schaeffer opted to throw his support to Jeffrey E. Cragg, the New Castle County Republican co-chairman, who has been saying for more than a year he wanted to run if the opportunity was there.

The Democrats have two candidates seeking the office: Matthew P. Denn, a Wilmington lawyer who was Minner's legal counsel, and Karen Weldin Stewart, their nominee in 2000.

Even with Schaeffer's withdrawal, the Republicans are not yet set. State Rep. Donna D. Stone, a Dover Republican, is being urged to make the race, particularly by some Kent County Republicans who would like to replace Williams, a Kent County Republican woman, with another Kent County Republican woman. This is the way political decisions are made.