Biden’s death leaves void in state politics

Delaware Attorney General Joseph “Beau” Biden III leaves Delaware Supreme Court  during the trial of Dr. Earl Bradley in 2011. (Delaware State News file photo by Dave Chambers).

Then-Delaware Attorney General Joseph “Beau” Biden III leaves Delaware Supreme Court during the trial of Dr. Earl Bradley in 2011. (Delaware State News file photo by Dave Chambers).

DOVER — In the aftermath of Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III’s death Saturday, public officials issued condolences and reflected on a life lived in the public eye.

Mr. Biden, the son of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and the former attorney general of Delaware, died of brain cancer, the vice president’s office announced Saturday. He was 46.

In a statement issued around 9:30 p.m., the vice president’s office said Beau Biden died after fighting cancer “with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.”

As the son of a longtime U.S. senator who became vice president and as a politician in his own right, Mr. Biden spent much of his life in the public eye.

While he was perhaps best known outside Delaware as the vice president’s eldest son, he was more than that in his home state.

A lawyer who also served in the military, Mr. Biden was seen as a rising star, someone with not only the famous family name but also the skills and charisma needed to excel in politics.

A Democrat, he was elected attorney general in 2006, with about 53 percent of the vote. He was re-elected in 2010 in a landslide, garnering nearly 79 percent of the vote in the state.

In April 2014, Mr. Biden announced he would forgo a bid for a third term to run for governor in 2016.

During his time as attorney general, Mr. Biden put special emphasis on prosecuting those involved in sexually exploiting children, something noted by the vice president.

In a statement, Vice President Biden said he was heartbroken over the loss of “the finest man any of us have ever known.

“Beau’s life was defined by service to others,” he said. “As a young lawyer, he worked to establish the rule of law in war-torn Kosovo. A major in the Delaware National Guard, he was an Iraq War veteran and was awarded the Bronze Star. As Delaware’s attorney general, he fought for the powerless and made it his mission to protect children from abuse.

“More than his professional accomplishments, Beau measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother. His absolute honor made him a role model for our family. Beau embodied my father’s saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did.”

For the vice president, it’s not the first tragedy he has suffered. His first wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, just weeks after he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Beau Biden recounted the accident in a 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

“In 1972, shortly after his improbable victory, but before he took the oath of office, my father went to Washington to look at his new office space,” he said. “My mom took us to go buy a Christmas tree. On the way home, we were in an automobile accident. My mom, Neilia, and my sister, Naomi, were killed. My brother, Hunter, and I were seriously injured and hospitalized for weeks.

“I was just short of 4 years old. One of my earliest memories was being in that hospital, Dad always at our side. We, my brother and I, not the Senate, were all that he cared about.

“He decided not to take the oath of office. He said then, ‘Delaware can get another senator, but my boys can’t get another father.’ However, great men like Ted Kennedy, Mike Mansfield, Hubert Humphrey — men who had been tested themselves — convinced him to serve.

“He was sworn in, in the hospital at my bedside. As a single parent, he decided to be there to put us to bed, to be there when we woke up from a bad dream, to make us breakfast, so he’d travel to and from Washington, four hours a day.”

Standing in front of a mass of politicians and supporters at the Pepsi Center in Denver, a confident Mr. Biden urged listeners to support his father as his father had supported him. His remarks drew applause, and afterward Beau and Joe Biden embraced on stage.


Mr. Biden had been plagued by health issues for several years. He suffered a mild stroke in May of 2010, and in August 2013, he was hospitalized at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Surgery was performed to remove what was described as a small lesion, and doctors said he had a “clean bill of health.”

After he declared his intentions to run for governor, Mr. Biden stayed out of the spotlight, especially upon leaving office in January. He turned down media requests and made few public appearances, leading to some speculation his health would not allow him to run.

Despite the rumors, while politicians said publicly they expected him to campaign, a careful reading between the lines showed some had at least small doubts.

Upon leaving his post as state attorney general, Mr. Biden took a job with the Wilmington law firm Grant and Eisenhofer in January.

On May 20, the vice president’s office said he had been admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Few details were given until Saturday, when his death was revealed.

Condolences from national and local figures quickly poured in.

In a statement, Gov. Jack Markell said his family was “shattered” by the news, and he ordered the U.S. and state flags be flown at half-staff.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a statement he believes the Bidens will be supported by the entire state.

“Beau Biden was an extraordinary father, husband, son and public servant, but above all, he was a good and decent

Joe Biden embraces his son Beau on stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Joe Biden embraces his son Beau on stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

man. His passing is a great loss for his family and friends and for Delaware.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took to Twitter to offer condolences, as did Republican contenders Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi. The chairman of the Delaware Republican Party, Charlie Copeland, also offered his sympathies, referencing what he called an important legacy left behind by Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse University College of Law. He worked for the U.S. Department of Justice before entering private practice and then being elected attorney general.

His decision not to campaign for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by his father when he became vice president came as a surprise to some. He opted not to seek the seat in 2010 so as to better pursue the case against a notorious child molester, he said at the time.

A September poll from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication found Beau Biden was one of the most popular politicians in Delaware. Sixty percent of respondents viewed him favorably, with only Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., receiving more positive votes. Just 5 percent of respondents said they had not heard of Mr. Biden.

In a statement, President Obama said he was grieving over the news of Beau Biden’s death.

“Beau took after Joe. He studied the law, like his dad, even choosing the same law school. He chased a life of public service, like his dad, serving in Iraq and as Delaware’s attorney general. Like his dad, Beau was a good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and deeply faithful man, who made a difference in the lives of all he touched — and he lives on in their hearts.

“But for all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder; nothing made him happier; nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family.”

Sen. Carper, who said he had known Beau Biden for 40 years, recalled the most recent encounter between the two.

“He was the son that any of us would be proud to call our own. It’s been a privilege to watch him grow up and become a leader in our state and in the Delaware National Guard,” he said in a statement.

“My last memory of Beau was during the Return Day Parade in Georgetown, Del., two days after last November’s election. I was walking along the parade route shaking hands with people just as Beau passed by, standing in a National Guard vehicle, waving at the crowd.

“For a moment, our eyes met, he waved to me and I to him. Then, he mouthed these words to me, ‘I love you.’ I smiled and returned them to him. And, he was gone.”

Mr. Biden’s passing creates a void in the political landscape. As a declared candidate for governor, he was seen as the front-runner for 2016. His pedigree made him a popular pick in a Democratic-leaning state, and his April 2014 disclosure led then-Lt. Gov. Matt Denn to announce he would run for attorney general.

Rep. John Carney, D-Del., and New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon have been mentioned as potential candidates for governor, although neither have said they are considering a campaign.

Mr. Biden’s website, which for more than a year had displayed a letter in which he declared his intentions to run for governor, was updated by Sunday morning with a statement from the vice president.

The White House created a page for visitors to offer condolences online to the Biden family.


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