Sen. McBride denies claims of residency issues ahead of primary election

DOVER — Long the subject of rumors about his residency, the highest-ranking member of the Senate is pushing back.

President Pro Tempore David McBride, a New Castle Democrat who has represented the 13th Senatorial District since 1980, was recently accused of not actually living in his district. Sen. McBride, who has a primary challenge in September, is vehemently denying the allegation.

In a letter sent to the election commissioner and media Monday, Darlene Battle, a resident of the district, urged the state to disqualify the senator from the primary.

David McBride

“If Sen. McBride is allowed ballot access despite his clear disregard of Delaware’s State Constitution, then this will set a negative precedent for other elected officials that they can ignore the residency requirement if they so desire,” Ms. Battle, who previously hosted a fundraiser for Sen. McBride’s opponent, Marie Pinkney, wrote.

There’s no debate that Sen. McBride owns a house in Lewes as well as his home in New Castle. What’s under the microscope is how much he lives at the New Castle residence, located on Nicole Court.

In her letter, Ms. Battle noted Sen. McBride has paid the minimum amount of $50 (or $56 in the past two years) for his annual sewer bill at the New Castle address for 11 of the past 13 years. New Castle County property records indicate this is accurate.

On Feb. 27, 2007, for instance, Sen. McBride paid his bill of $148.73. The next year, the charge was down to $50. It has remained at the minimum except for a charge of $206.65 in 2017 and another of $68.88 the next year

Of the 26 other homes on Nicole Court, only one other did not exceed the minimum charge last year. Most had bills of more than $100.

New Castle County bases the sewer charge off the two lowest quarterly usage amounts. Those amounts are added together, doubled and multiplied by 6.4 per 1,000 gallons to calculate the bill.

“We disregard the two highest, which typically include warm-weather usage for pools and lawns. This is our way of allowing for water that may not pass through the sewer system,” the county’s website states.

Should the total equal less than $56 (previously $50), it is bumped up the annual minimum.

According to Sen. McBride, there’s a simple explanation for what some see as a discrepancy — despite being married, he lives alone at the New Castle address.

He said he typically spends summers at the Tarpon Drive address in Lewes with his family. His wife, Margaret, lives there full-time and is registered to vote in that district, and their children attended school in Lewes.

Sen. McBride said his wife decided to move to the beach community with their children around 2007. The kids were always sad to come back to New Castle at the end of the summer, leaving behind the beach and the friends they made down in Sussex County, he said, prompting the family to decide to split up the living arrangement.

“I have notes from the girls begging my wife to stay there, begging,” he said.

While Sen. McBride admitted it’s not always easy being separated from family, the two homes are only about a 90-minute drive apart. Given that and the children’s desire to live in Sussex, he felt it was best for them to permanently reside there with their mother.

The family is reunited on weekends and sometimes during the week, he said.

“It’s an interesting arrangement, but it works for us,” the senator noted.

Sen. McBride said he has been cleared by the Department of Elections before. He treats the New Castle home as his primary residence, he said, listing it on his driver’s license, paying taxes there and spending most of his time there.

“This is where I live, whether they like it or not,” he said.

His sewer fee is consistently low because he is the only one residing there and tries to avoid wasting water, Sen. McBride said. He’s also spent more time at Legislative Hall in the past decade or so, another factor driving the minimum usage charge, he said.

The big decline from 2007 to 2008 stems from when his wife and kids moved to Lewes, he said, while the large jump in 2017 can be attributed to a leaking toilet.

The state constitution requires an individual running for the General Assembly to live in that district for at least a year prior to the campaign. It does not define exactly what it means to reside somewhere, however.

This is not the first time a candidate’s eligibility has been questioned. Just in the past two election cycles, lieutenant governor hopeful Kathy McGuiness (the current state auditor), then state Rep. Melanie George Smith and state House candidate Jim DeMartino have been accused of not living in the district (or state, in the case of Ms. McGuiness). Their eligibility was eventually upheld in each case.

In 2016, then Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove told Delaware Public Media her staff does not track how often candidates sleep at their professed residence. Investigations only ensue after an official complaint is filed, Ms. Manlove said, recalling she never disqualified a candidate in nearly 20 years.

Election Commissioner Anthony Albence did not respond to questions about Sen. McBride’s status.

Ms. Pinkney, Sen. McBride’s primary opponent, wrote in an email she believes the issue could sway some voters: “I‘ve mostly stayed away from this topic because in the grand scheme of why I decided to run against the Senator where he and his family reside is fairly low on the list. I am concerned with how the senator leads, how he votes and the policy that he produces or the lack thereof.

“Yet, I cannot deny that even these things have the potential to be intertwined. If you reside hundreds of miles away from a particular landfill you’re less concerned with the healthcare outcomes that result from allowing it to increase in height. So yes … I think this is an issue for voters.

“We also urge the elevation of community voices in this issue. If the community went as far as to produce this information. I think it is clear that it is an issue for voters.”

To Sen. McBride, who was quick to note he always pays his bill on time, this controversy is just rehashing an old issue “with a new spin.” It’s taking away from issues that actually matter to constituents, such as schools, systemic racism and health care, he said, expressing surprise that how often he flushes the toilet has become a campaign issue.

“The truth can never be defeated,” Sen. McBride said.