Posted: March 15, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

D. Ray Ellerman, Sussex County's fun-loving Republican clerk of the peace who once married a couple on a parade float, died Sunday after an illness of some months, partway through his third four-year term.

Ellerman, 76, of Bridgeville, was a favorite figure among his fellow Sussex Republicans because of his free-spirited approach toward politics and especially toward himself since he was elected in 1994.

"He was just fun-loving, certainly not a scrapper, just a good old guy, everybody's buddy," said Keller Hopkins, who was the Sussex County Republican chairman during Ellerman's 2002 campaign.

Under the state constitution, a vacancy for clerk of the peace is filled by gubernatorial appointment. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, can choose an appointee of any political affiliation. The new officeholder serves until the next election in 2004, when candidates will compete for a full four-year term.

It is not easy for someone holding an often-overlooked office like clerk of the peace to enter political lore, but Ellerman found himself with something like cult status after the 2002 race because of a television spot that he and Hopkins cooked up.

In a delightful play on Ellerman's age, the candidate appeared in the ad as a leather-jacketed, black-helmeted motorcycle rider doing wheelies and jumps on his way to the office. In reality the cyclist was Hopkins, and all Ellerman had to do for the videotape was take off a helmet to reveal his face. Then came the tagline: "Don't underestimate a Republican."

The ad not only helped propel Ellerman to his best showing ever with 54 percent of the vote, but it also was credited with energizing the Sussex County Republicans, who had the highest voter turnout in the state that year.

"It worked out so well. It was so funny to see an old guy [apparently] ride a motorcycle. Ray felt like that made a big difference," Hopkins said.

Ellerman, who was a salesman, school bus driver and harness racer, became active in politics by working in the trenches. State Rep. J. Benjamin Ewing, a Bridgeville Republican who was his friend, said Ellerman ran campaigns starting in the 1980s, first for the late House Speaker B. Bradford Barnes and then for Ewing. Ellerman continued to help out Ewing even after being recruited to run himself by J. Everett Moore Jr., a Sussex Republican chairman who later became the party's state chairman.

"Ray started running and never slowed down. Once he got in there, he went at that job," Moore said.

One of Ellerman's claims to fame was performing a July Fourth marriage on a float during a holiday parade in Laurel. He said he loved to make his job fun.

"We certainly are going to miss him," said Sussex Republican Chairwoman Phyllis M. Byrne. "He was a colorful individual."