Posted: Feb. 19, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Every now and then a political race comes along that assumes importance beyond all proportion. It appears to be shaping up that way for a legislative seat in Newark.

Already U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle has put himself on the line for the Republicans. Already Gov. Ruth Ann Minner has done the same for the Democrats. Already top party strategists on both sides are laying out the campaigns.

So much is being brought to bear that the candidates almost could seem beside the point, except that they are the point, because of the caliber of both of them and because of what winning means for the future of their respective parties.

Furthermore, this is one of those races that appears to happen only in Delaware. Because of family ties and friendships, there is so much political cross-pollination going on that some very important people are skipping across party lines to work with the candidate of the opposite persuasion.

This outsized political battleground is the 23rd Representative District, where state Republican Rep. Timothy U. Boulden is exiting after 10 years, he says because of pressing concerns at his family's fuel company.

The Democratic candidate, the first to announce, is Teresa L. "Terry" Schooley, a baby boomer and past Christina school board president well known in the children's advocacy network she frequents. She runs Kids Count, a project housed at the University of Delaware to collect statistics on children.

The Republican candidate is Paul J. Pomeroy, who is out of the next generation, regarded so much as an up-and-comer by his party that he was named the 2002 Republican of the Year. He is the business development director for Aloysius Butler & Clark, a marketing and public relations firm based in Wilmington.

Three weeks ago no one anticipated this match-up. Then Boulden stunned the political set by announcing to his colleagues in the state House of Representatives he would not run for another two-year term, and what happened next was spontaneous political combustion.

The Democrats already had Schooley ready to go, and no matter how much Boulden talked about his business responsibilities, they were sure she had scared him off. He barely had won his last election by a margin of 367 votes out of 6,089 votes cast.

With Boulden out of the way, the Democrats were counting on the race as a pickup for their side, although it actually means more to them than that. They are mired in the House minority, outnumbered by the Republicans 29-12, and they see Schooley as an emblem of the march back toward the respectability they long for.

The vacuum on the Republican side hardly opened before it was filled. Pomeroy was preparing to run for New Castle County Council president, but he quickly switched to the legislative contest. Pomeroy has more than a passing interest in this seat. It was held from 1980 to 1992 by Ada Leigh Soles, and while she is a Democrat, she is also his mother-in-law.

As on the Democratic side, Pomeroy's candidacy means more to his party than an effort to retain a House seat. The Republicans need a farm team. They have watched the Democrats put what could be a new generation of governors and members of Congress in place with officeholders like Lt. Gov. John C. Carney Jr., Treasurer Jack A. Markell and New Castle County Council President Christopher A. Coons. The Republicans have yet to counter.

In sum, each party is looking at its candidate and seeing resurgence. This is the reason Castle brought Pomeroy to present to the Republicans' Lincoln Day dinner earlier this month. This is the reason Minner hosted a breakfast Thursday to encourage about 60 invitees, almost all of them women, to join "Women for Schooley" and to volunteer, contribute and raise money for the candidate.

Further fueling this race, a number of people in politics have a personal attachment to the district and do not want their candidate to lose. Markell, who was responsible for recruiting Schooley, grew up there and his parents still live there. Mary Margaret Williams, the House Democrats' administrative assistant, used to be on the Newark City Council. Priscilla B. Rakestraw, the Republican national committeewoman, got her start in politics there.

Of course, Ada Leigh Soles still is there, and so is her husband James R. Soles, a University of Delaware professor emeritus of political science and a patriarchal Democrat.

With the candidates in place, now comes the nitty-gritty of choosing up sides, which is not as easy as it would seem. Ada Leigh and Jim Soles used to think they would be helping Schooley, but family is family and they are with their son-in-law.

It was also a dilemma for former state Rep. Jane P. Maroney, a Republican who represented a Brandywine Hundred district from 1978 to 1998. Heedless of party affiliation, Maroney showed up at the "Women for Schooley" breakfast, making a choice that others no doubt will have to make, going one way or the other.

"Terry and I have worked together on dozens and dozens and dozens of issues," Maroney said. "I just learned her opponent is Ada Leigh's son-in-law. But I can't let that stand in the way."