COMMENTARY: Political winds are swirling Delaware

What should we divine from the political earthquakes in upstate Delaware? Do even the Democrats think it is time for change?

North of the canal, two powerful leaders were defeated for re-election in last [month’s] party-primary elections: Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams and New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon. Gordon was seeking to become “executive for life,” so to speak. It seems like he has been at the helm up there forever, though part of that time was as county police chief.

Meanwhile, down here in Lower Slower Delaware, all is more or less calm. No incumbents defeated, not even Sam Wilson in County Council District 2. State Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Lincoln, easily defeated his challenger. So did House Speaker Pete Schwarzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. How interesting it was that Dave Wilson’s opponent thought Wilson was insufficiently conservative while Schwarzkopf’s thought he was insufficiently liberal. Oh, well.

Reid Beveridge

Reid Beveridge

But let’s motor back north of the canal. Much of the 2016 election cycle has been about change. Or to the contrary, keeping the course steady, depending on your point of view. In the presidential race, if you want “steady as you go,” you clearly vote for Hillary Clinton. If you want change, perhaps really, really big change, you vote for Donald J. Trump. But we digress.

Just as clearly, upstate Democrats voted for change in a big way. In the city of Wilmington, several acquaintances have moved out of the city to get away from the sound of gunfire every night. It was not for no reason that one television network named Wilmington “Murder City, USA.” The program was dropped before it aired, but you only have to read the newspaper or listen to the upstate radio to know how frequent are the shootings – and killings — in Wilmington’s mean streets. The Christiana Hospital’s emergency department has to be really expert by now at digging bullets out of young men.

And innocent children.

Williams, who is a former police detective, could do nothing about this. His police chief left in disgust. Various theories have been tried to cut down the gunfire in north Wilmington and Hilltop, to no avail.

Of course, no thought was given to the one technique that has proven to work everywhere it has been employed. It couldn’t be under Williams or his predecessors because their voters don’t like it. It is called by various names, but “broken windows” policing and “stop and frisk” are two. This program was developed by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York City and his police commissioner, William Bratton, in the 1990s.

The underpinning of this technique is that if police enforce minor laws, folks will be less likely to break major laws. Trouble is, it fills the jails with men (mostly) who like to hang out on street corners. They don’t like it when the police come up to a group of them, ask them what they are doing, and then, want to pat them down to check for guns.

Gordon’s defeat in New Castle County had little or nothing to do with the above. Rather, it was more about hubris and abuse of power. Gordon paid little or no attention to the county council. He ignored their votes on the county budget. He routinely threatened those who opposed him. Further, it didn’t help when he got into a spitting match with his chief of staff, David Grimaldi. Gordon fired Grimaldi, and Grimaldi sued for wrongful termination. Oh, well.

The question, though, is what does this portend for Nov. 8 in Delaware? Democrats have been ruling in Dover for the last quarter-century. We have had Democratic governors since 1993 — of varying quality from mediocre to disastrous. The state Senate has had a Democratic majority longer than most can remember.

Many news agencies now are anointing U.S. Rep. John Carney, a former lieutenant governor, as his successor. That because Democrats have a big edge in voter registration. But Carney epitomizes the exact opposite of change: more of the same, only perhaps a qualitative notch down from Gov. Jack Markell. It seems unlikely that Carney would willingly face the changes needed in taxing and spending that are urgent, given the General Assembly’s repeated punts on the state budget.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, has a presentation called “Delaware Doesn’t Have a Revenue Problem, It has a Spending Problem.” Too true, but most Democrats talk only about more revenue. We certainly can’t cut programs that “help people,” can we?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.

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