2016 in Review: Looking back, politics revealed a divided Delaware

DOVER — We will remember 2016 mostly for its politics.

It was the year that Donald Trump landed his helicopter in Harrington and made a rollicking pitch to “Make America Great Again” on his unconventional journey to the White House.

The Delaware State Fairgrounds stop was a red, white and blue rally like no other in Delaware history.

“We love to be here,” President-elect Trump said that day in April just before the state’s presidential primary. “Do we love Delaware?”

The crowd of nearly 5,000 roared inside the Delaware State Fairgrounds’ Quillen Arena.

The fair was chosen for its ability to host a big crowd on short notice.

The crowd cheered and chanted as the New York businessman rolled out his plan for a big wall that Mexico would fund and his sharp criticisms of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

He pointed out Delaware is home to 378 of his registered corporations.

“I’ve known Delaware for a long time,” he said. “It’s a great place and we’re going to get rid of all of the bad stuff.”

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders played to much smaller crowds in Wilmington just before the primary.

Trump and Clinton were Delaware’s primary winners here and eventual party nominees.

That’s what President-elect Trump said he wanted that day in Harrington.

“I really want to run against crooked Hillary,” he said.

In November, Kent and Sussex voters backed him.

New Castle, with its larger population and Democratic Party numbers, kept Delaware a blue state.

Delaware’s three electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton with 54 percent of the vote.

“I voted for Hillary because she’s lesser of two evils,” said Dotty McNary in Smyrna on Election Day. “I think a lot of people are saying that today.”

Dennis Orlando, in Cheswold, offered a different view.

“I’m leaning towards not getting a liar in office as president,” he said. “I voted for Trump because he gives a business side and we need to do more business-wise as a country.”

Delaware’s Dems

Democrats riding New Castle’s wave of blue won statewide offices.

John Carney became Delaware’s fourth consecutive Democrat to win the office of governor.

Democrat Lisa Blunt-Rochester, a first-timer on a ballot, will replace Gov.-elect Carney in Delaware’s sole congressional seat. She will be the first woman and the first minority to be Delaware’s U.S. representative.

Bethany Hall-Long, another Democrat, will become lieutenant governor, turning the lights back on in that office for the first time in two years. The office has been vacant since Matt Denn won election to the attorney general’s office.

To understand the Delaware political scene’s latest changes, you have to go back to the late Attorney General Beau Biden’s decision to not run in 2014 in favor of making a run for governor in 2016. That opened the door for then-Lt. Gov. Denn to run for attorney general.

Mr. Biden, son of the vice president, died of cancer on May 30, 2015.

Months after his death, then-Rep. Carney decided he would make a second try for governor. He lost a primary to Gov. Jack Markell in 2008. His move opened the door for a new congressional representative in Washington.

Beau Biden’s death also had an impact on the presidential race. For months, Vice President Joe Biden delayed a decision on a run for president. In October 2015, he said he would not run.

“But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent,” he said at the time.

He was a regular on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But, most notably, he was tapped by President Barack Obama in his January State of the Union speech to lead the “moonshot” to cure cancer.

“It’s personal for me,” said Vice President Biden at the time. “But it’s also personal for nearly every American, and millions of people around the world. We all know someone who has had cancer, or is fighting to beat it. They’re our family, friends and co-workers.”

Shift in Senate?

Lt. Gov.-elect Hall-Long’s move means there is a fight ahead for control of the state Senate. A special election date has not been set, but Republicans will be backing realtor and retired policeman John Marino in hopes of regaining control of the Senate for the first time since 1973.

Democrats, who dominate registration numbers in the district, have nominated Stephanie Hansen, an environmental attorney.

The upset of the general election was in Wilmington where Republican Anthony Delcollo edged Democrat Patricia Blevins, the Senate president pro tempore, in the 7th Senate District.

The synthetic fields of DE Turf will get their first tournament action in Easter. Meanwhile, DelDOT’s work continues on the South Frederica overpass that will ease traffic in the area along Del. 1. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Paving the future

The political landscape wasn’t the only one to change in 2016.

Around Kent County, a lot of dirt is being moved in the name of progress.

Long-awaited and debated interchange projects began on Del. 1 at Little Heaven and South Frederica.

Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan, with her pink shovel, led a groundbreaking in March for the latter, which was proposed long before neighboring DE Turf, a regional sports complex, was even an idea.

In May, there was some teasing about the delay in getting South Frederica roadwork started when a groundbreaking was held for the sports complex.

The complex, a sports tourism initiative projected to have an annual economic impact of $18 million, will host its first tournament on Easter weekend with 100 teams playing lacrosse on the 12 synthetic turf fields.

In Dover, the county celebrated the openings of the $10 million Kent Recreation Center and adjoining Greater Dover Boys and Girls Club on New Burton Road. Just outside its entrance, work continues on the long-awaited West Dover Connector — recently named the POW-MIA Parkway — that is intended to relieve traffic west of the city down to U.S. 13 in Camden.

DelDOT now has $500 million in road projects ongoing or planned in Kent County.

Future of health care

Just south of Milford in Sussex County, Bayhealth broke ground on a $300 million health campus that will cover 165 acres in May.

The campus, expected to open in 2019, will include a six-story hospital with an expanded emergency department, additional operating rooms, all private patient rooms and a cafeteria on the first floor with outdoor seating. There will also be a 70,000-square-foot outpatient center with additional services.

At the groundbreaking for a $300 million health campus south of Milford, Bayhealth President and CEO Terry Murphy said the effort “takes the will to change the status quo and create something new.” (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

Nemours Children’s Health System will provide specialized services for children and older adults in a separate building on the health campus.

“A project like this doesn’t happen overnight; it takes research, imagination, determination and know-how,” said Bayhealth President and CEO Terry Murphy. “It also takes the will to change the status quo and create something new.

“We view the health campus project as a $275 to $300 million re-investment in the health of our community.”

In Dover, another big project will add to the Eden Hill Medical Center.

Ground was broken in the fall on the $19 million Center at Eden Hill, a short-term rehabilitation center for patients leaving the hospital.

The three-story, 65,000-square-foot medical facility will include 80 beds for patients needing sub-acute care.

Taking off at DAFB

Dover Air Force Base was also busy paving the way into the future in 2016.

Runway 01-19, which served the base since its start in 1941, was undergoing construction. Meanwhile, the base’s fleet of C-5M jumbo cargo planes and crews were working out of Joint Base Maguire-Dix in New Jersey, making the skies around here quieter than usual.

The first phase of the runway project — at a cost of $102 million — was completed in September. The base had a welcoming ceremony for the first C-5 and C-17 to land on the new strip.

“The purpose of that runway was to ensure the ability to project power from the eastern seaboard for the next 50-plus years,” said 436th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Ethan C. Griffin.

Millions more in improvements are ahead for Dover Air Force Base. Federal money is earmarked for a fully enclosed maintenance hangar for C-5Ms and new schools.

In late June, the U.S. Air Force announced that Dover AFB was one of five finalists to potentially become home to a new KC-46A Pegasus refueling squadron. A decision has not yet been made.

A C-17 approaches the new O1-19 Runway after its reopening in September. The first phase was a $102 million project. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

Death of death penalty

For the past few years, one of the most debated topics in Delaware has been the death penalty.

Efforts to abolish it never succeeded in the General Assembly. The state Senate had passed legislation in 2015. In January, the measure failed, 23-16, in the House of Representatives.

The possibility of one representative recalling a no vote meant that there was a chance the House would have reconsidered the legislation in March. However, by then, representatives felt it was best to let the matter play out in Delaware’s Supreme Court.

In August, the state’s Supreme Court concluded the death penalty as handed down in Delaware was unconstitutional, conflicting with the Sixth Amendment, the right to a jury trial. Juries in Delaware offered non-binding recommendations of death before a judge made the final decision.

The decision, coupled with a December court ruling, spares the 13 men that were on death row.

Legislative actions

The year’s legislative session ended in the wee hours of July 1 with Gov. Jack Markell signing a $4.08 billion operating budget. The budget bill included a 1.5 percent raise (or $750, whichever was greater) for state employees. It was the largest pay hike in five years.

In other legislative action and inaction:

•A bill to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10.25 over a four-year period was stopped in the Delaware House of Representatives’ economic development committee. It lacked support in the House, but had passed the Senate, 11-8, after a lengthy, contentious debate.

•In January, the Delaware House unsuccessfully tried to overturn Gov. Markell’s veto of school testing opt-out legislation. It was the first veto override attempt since 1977.

•Gov. Jack Markell signed a resolution in February that apologized for the state’s role in slavery.

•In late June, the General Assembly passed legislation that extends the waiting period for gun purchases from three business days to 25 calendar days.

•As Delaware legislators wrestled with the budget, Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, said no action would be taken on legislation to reduce the gaming taxes taken from Delaware’s casinos.

Crime and courts

One of 2015’s top stories spilled into 2016.

Dover Police Cpl. Thomas Webster IV, who was found not guilty in December 2015 of assaulting a suspect with a kick to the jaw in August 2013, resigned from the department. A separation agreement obtained the following day showed that Cpl. Webster would receive $230,000 in exchange for his resignation.

Lateef Dickerson, the man kicked in the Cpl. Webster case, pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by person prohibited and receiving a stolen firearm in an unrelated case in New Castle County Superior Court in early April. In May, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison under the habitual offender guidelines.

Other headlines included:

•Caesar Rodney High’s state championship wrestling coach Dickie Howell entered a plea of guilty to sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust and fourth-degree rape. The victim was a 17-year-old student. In June, he was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison.

•Former Dover Air Force Base airman Justin K. Corbett, 28, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide after a toddler’s death while in his care in 2012, In September, Judge Robert B. Young sentenced him to 18 months of probation and said his eight-year prison sentenced was suspended. Corbett spent 31 days in prison. The boy, Evan, was in Corbett’s care while his mother was on active duty in Qatar.

•Seth Ramsey, 19, of Harrington was sentenced to six years in prison in September after pleading guilty to manslaughter. He fatally shot his father with a crossbow in 2014. Then in high school, the teen said he was afraid of what his father would do when he found out he skipped school.

• Judge Young released convicted murderer Catherine W. Culp from prison and placed her on probation in April. Culp, 56, who was convicted of killing boyfriend Lee B. Hicks in 1998 after a party in Canterbury, was ordered back to prison in December after the state Supreme Court reviewed an appeal from the Department of Justice to overturn the decision.

•In late June, a Maryland man who was wanted for robberies in Maryland and Delaware was shot by a Delaware State Trooper on Del. 1 after the suspect refused commands to drop a gun.

Tragic deaths

• The body of Senior Airman Keifer Huhman, whose truck was found on the shoulder of the William V. Roth Jr. Bridge at the C&D Canal on Sunday, Feb. 7, was found March 24 along the rocks of the canal by a fisherman.

• Willis Duckery, owner of the Fairways Inn and other Kent businesses, died in a boating accident on Aug 14 near Rock Hall, Maryland. His boat capsized during a storm.

• Delaware firefighters mourned the death of Tim McClanahan, a Lewes volunteer who fell from a helicopter during a training exercise in Georgetown, in July.

• Verizon worker Heath B. Janssen, 41, of Dover was killed while working on the shoulder of Del. 1 near Little Heaven in July. The driver was charged with vehicular homicide.

Kent controversies

• Kent County Superior Court Judge William L. Witham Jr. put a stop to plans for the Silo Speedway in Felton, noting Kent County did not follow the zoning code when it approved the dirt track. Neighboring Pizzadili Winery objected to the speedway.

• A Dover church was in the headlines from June through much of the rest of the year for an idea to create a village of tiny homes to help the homeless.

Big events

Dover lost a big event and Sussex regained one in 2016.

The second Big Barrel Country Music Festival at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway was canceled months before it was to happen. The Firefly Music Festival, however, rocked on with a crowd of 90,000 and additionally earned the new distinction of the nation’s largest gathering of campers for a rock festival.

In November, World Championship Punkin Chunkin returned to Sussex County after a two-year absence. It abruptly ended on the final day after the trap door of an air cannon came loose and struck a television production company worker, critically injuring the woman.

George Thorogood, the Delaware-born rock legend, and his Destroyers played the Delaware State Fair in July. It was their first Delaware concert outside of New Castle County.

The Delaware State Fair, in its 97th year, attracted more than 262,000 visitors over its 10-day run. Excessive heat hurt attendance.

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What do you think was the year’s top story?

Comments are welcome at the bottom of this column posted at www.DelawareStateNews.net.

Thank you for your readership in 2016.

We hope you have a Happy News Year in 2017.

 

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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