Posted: Feb. 21, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Three nights after state Rep. Robert F. Gilligan's tires were punctured, it happened to him again in what law enforcement authorities are treating as escalating attacks on state officials.

Gilligan, the House Democratic minority leader, and his wife Jeanne found their Ford SUV listing to the side Friday night, the two driver-side tires flattened by what appeared to be ice-picked holes, when they left McGlynn's Pub, a restaurant in Pike Creek Valley, where they had met with friends.

The tires were replacements with under 50 miles on them, installed after a puncture attack on both Gilligan's car and state Sen. Karen E. Peterson's Toyota Camry while the two were attending a civic association meeting Tuesday evening in the Stanton area, where their districts overlap.

Peterson, a first-term Democrat, previously had her tires slashed last February at a Democratic fund-raiser, held at a union hall near Newport, and Gilligan had done what he could to make light of his first experience with criminal mischief. He noted that Peterson was taking it better than he was, saying, "She's used to it. This is all new to me."

No one is making light of it now. Attorney General M. Jane Brady said Saturday her office would look into it, joining the New Castle County police who are investigating the attack Tuesday night and the state police who are investigating the one Friday night.

"It appears to be targeted at state officials. That very much concerns us," Brady said. "We don't know that it won't escalate."

The suspicion is that political bad blood is motivating the vandalism. In both cases this week, the cars belonging to Gilligan and Peterson were the only ones targeted in crowded parking areas. Their cars are easy to identify by the distinctive gold initialed license plates given to members of the General Assembly.

Both lawmakers said they were not about to give up their legislative tags.

"They are not taking that away from me. People need to know that I'm in their neighborhoods and at their meetings. I earned that," Peterson said, adding defiantly, "Maybe I'll add a flashing neon sign."

Gilligan said he has had his plates for 32 years, and they are staying. "We've got some sick people out there," he said. "Between the county and the state police and the attorney general, hopefully they'll be apprehended."