The Oct. 27 inaugural candidates’ forum of Citizens for a Better Sussex, held at Bethany Beach’s South Coastal Library, brought in political candidates from around the state, despite the fact that Friday was a busy day for candidates throughout Delaware.
Locally, many active in area politics were attending the retirement party for outgoing Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels. And that was just one of the events that kept candidates away from the CBS event on Friday evening.
But many did make it to the CBS forum and did their best to address voters’ concerns, leading up to Nov. 7’s elections.
CBS president Joan Deaver emphasized from the start that her organization is non-partisan, though its primary agenda focuses on managed growth in the fast-developing county and has challenged the Sussex County Council on the issue, calling for additional council seats to be added to enhance representation for the eastern part of the county.
With the Stickels retirement party that night, many of the county council candidates in the 2006 election were otherwise engaged, but Councilman George Cole (R-District 4) turned out in his home district, if briefly, and was joined by Independent Party opponent Wolfgang VonBaumgart.
Councilman Vance Phillips (R-District 5) did not attend, but Democratic Party opponent Harvey Hyland Jr. came to have his say before the voters.
And topping the ticket for CBS was perhaps one of the more unexpected candidates to turn out in Bethany Beach: Democratic U.S. House of Representatives candidate Dennis Spivack, who had been expecting to spend Friday night taking on incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Castle in a televised debate on PBS station WHYY.
“I drove to Sussex County because my opponent canceled our debate without any reason,” Spivack said out of the blocks, leveling the same charges he’d made earlier in the day over the cancellation. He contended that Castle had been able to attend recent Republican Party and fund-raising events but excused himself for health reasons from one of the few televised events the two candidates had scheduled, leaving Spivack without even a televised platform for his views.
Though it was canceled in the end, the debate remained controversial — not only for Castle’s decision not to participate, but also for the fact that neither of the two other candidates for the office was invited by WHYY to participate.
Castle did not send a representative to Oct. 27’s forum in Bethany Beach, nor did one of his other challengers: Green Party Candidate Michael Berg (father of slain Iraq hostage Nicholas Berg). But self-proclaimed “Independent Democrat” Karen Hartley-Nagle, running on the Independent Party ticket, joined Spivack in answering questions from audience members.
Among U.S. Senate candidates, the only presence was that of Scott Warner, campaign manager for Sen. Tom Carper’s Republican challenger, Jan Ting.
Sussex County Register of Wills Howard Clendaniel, a Democrat, also took time on Friday to visit with constituents, as did the county’s Recorder of Deeds, John Brady, a Republican.
Bob Maddex, the Democrats’ challenger for the Delaware House seat in District 38 laid out his platform, while Republican incumbent Rep. Gerald Hocker sent supporter Lauren Alberti in his stead, citing previous commitments.
In District 41, Democratic and Independent party candidate Barbara Lifflander was the only candidate present, as John Adkins did not attend.
In the county’s contentious sheriff’s race, Republican incumbent Bob Reed and a representative for Democratic opponent Eric Swanson attended the event. And state Attorney General candidate Ferris Wharton, a Republican, had former gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee in Bethany to speak on his behalf.
All in all, the event was a mixed bag of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, with many of the candidates unrepresented. But those who did make it out on that rainy Friday night had a chance to speak on issues ranging from development and the environment to immigration, education and jobs.
Dennis Spivack (D) for U.S. House
Facing a seven-term congressman who is Delaware’s sole representative in the House, Spivack introduced himself to those in attendance with the declaration that it is “time for change.” He said his efforts were focused on three groups: working men and women, retirees, and small-businessmen and farmers. Thus, healthcare, utility rates and gas were issues of concern for him.
On Social Security, Spivack said the program needed to be made safer, charging that Castle was straddling the fence on measures that might protect it, while Spivack supported repaying borrowed funds. Spivack also noted the estimated 46 million Americans without health insurance, as well as increasing problems with affordability for healthcare.
Playing firmly to local concerns, Spivack also stated concerns about the long-term welfare of retirees, as well as beach replenishment and energy independence.
Karen Hartley-Nagle (I) for U.S. House
Hartley-Nagle touted both her Democratic background and Independent notions in introducing herself to local voters. She favored open government, noting her work to open the state’s family courts to the eyes of the public.
A single mother of four and the executive director of the Nagle Fund, which she said addresses children’s issues, Hartley-Nagle said, “I’m fighting for children.” She also voiced support for campaign finance reform and cited what she called “a culture of corruption in Congress.”
Hartley-Nagle took the call of independence even further, saying that legislators were “selling their votes to the highest bidder” with money taken from special interests, and referenced the scandal surrounding former Florida Rep. Mark Foley — a Republican — in saying Congress should not “sweep things under the rug or look the other way.”
She also cited a firm 12- to 18-month timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, as well as support for universal healthcare.
Jan Ting (R) forU.S. Senate
Campaign Manager Scott Warner noted candidate Jan Ting’s place as a first-generation American — the son of Chinese students who had come to the U.S. to study medicine. “They gave him a sense of idealism,” Warner said, going on to note Ting’s own service in the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
As the son of legal immigrants, Ting takes a strong stance on what Warner called “the illegal immigration crisis,” saying it “affects everything we care about” and “must be fixed or it will only get worse.”
Citing opponent Tom Carper’s 30 years in various offices, Warner said Ting favored term limits and would be “a lightning bolt to the heart of D.C.” if elected.
Ferris Wharton (R) for Attorney General
With his candidate facing one of the biggest names in Delaware politics – Biden, though Beau, rather than his father, Sen. Joseph Biden — Bill Lee was quick to lay out his own credentials before talking about the candidate for state attorney general.
Lee was the presiding judge in the murder trial of Thomas Campano and later ran for governor against Ruth Ann Minner, who won that race. Lee noted that he was also in a law firm with both Biden and Wharton and had recruited Wharton — a former deputy attorney general — to run against Biden.
“Ferris wants this job more than anything in the world,” Lee said. “He wants to make this the best prosecutor’s office in the country.”
Bob Maddex (D) for 38th District
Facing a two-term incumbent, Maddex cited his own background and experience as what makes him the better candidate to represent the 38th District at the state level.
The attorney, who has 25 years of experience in service with the federal government in both administrative and legal positions, has owned property in the area since 1979 and has been a full-time resident of Fenwick Island for four years.
Maddex said his goals were on a broader agenda in the state legislature, including affordable healthcare, managed growth, road improvement, increasing pay for jobs in the state, emergency preparedness and an open government process. He said he would consider himself a true public servant if elected.
Gerald Hocker (R) for 38th District
Alberti’s statement on behalf of Hocker made his excuses for his absence at the event. Rather than stating his positions on the issues in the letter she read, he invited constituents to contact him directly with their concerns.
Barbara Lifflander (D/I) for 41st District
It was old-home day, in a way, for Lifflander, who described herself as “a charter member” of CBS. Lifflander said her focus was “how to make government change to work for us.”
Lifflander championed the CBS core agenda — managed growth — along with the related issue of environmental protection. “Infrastructure before development,” she touted. “We need vision. Now is the time, before we all go down the tubes.”
She also noted the impact of healthcare concerns, which she said she could be addressed. “If the federal government won’t do anything about it, then we have to step in,” she said, referring to state measures.
Lifflander noted that while the state’s children have a guarantee of healthcare coverage, “I’ve fallen into the doughnut hole,” referring to that no-man’s land between those poor enough to be entitled to coverage through the state and those who can pay for insurance. She championed a single-payer system, such as that in use in Massachusetts. “When is Delaware going to step up to the plate?” she asked.
George Cole (R) for Sussex County Council, District 4
Before heading off to the evening’s most popular destination — Stickels’ farewell party — Cole stopped in at the CBS forum, eschewing his allotted time for a statement in favor of questions from the audience.
Responding to questions about environmental preservation issues and better representation for eastern Sussex County, Cole firmly favored the existing proposal to add two at-large seats to the council.
Noting the downsizing of his own eastern district with booming population in a prior census, Cole said he felt the area’s shifting population would be better represented with two additional council members who could stand for them on the council.
Without those two seats, Cole said he didn’t think there was much that could be done on environmental and managed-growth issues while west-county council members pushed growth to the east. “They can do all the damage here on the coast,” Cole said of the western contingent, and proudly go back to those they represent.
“I have deep concerns that Livable Delaware isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” he added, suggesting the governor’s planning document lacked real teeth to ensure its ideals were put into force.
Wolfgang VonBaumgart (I) Sussex County Council, District 4
The secretary of the state Independent Party and chairman of the party’s Sussex County wing, VonBaumgart described a three-prong approach that also included endorsements for some of those in the room on Oct. 27.
Under public safety issues, he endorsed Reed, saying the sheriff’s office seemed to have a legitimate claim on law-enforcement powers under state law.
Citing a “closed loop” on the county council, wherein, he said, council members relied upon insiders and out-of-state developers for input rather than listening to the general public, VonBaumgart championed a change to an elected Planning & Zoning Commission and administrator position, saying the shift would provide better information toward environmental preservation and managed development.
The Independent Party candidate for District 4 also said he hoped that council districts would be redistricted by an independent or elected commission should two additional council seats be created, to avoid gerrymandering by the parties currently in power.
On the environmental front, VonBaumgart voiced support for a balanced approach, hoping to preserve local agriculture while moving toward alternative energy sources, such as bio-diesel, while also reducing suburban sprawl.
Howard Hyland Jr. (D) for Sussex County Council, District 5
In District 5, Hyland is taking on incumbent Republican Vance Phillips, who has consistently butted heads with Cole over growth issues.
A native Sussex Countian, Hyland is also a retired educator, with 28 years of service behind him. Hyland took issue with the current state of affairs in the county, saying its motto has been “develop, develop, develop.” Emphasizing that he’s not anti-development, Hyland said he felt it important that development regulations had teeth.
Hyland said a large part of the problem was open development in the county, without infrastructure to support it already in place. That had led to higher taxes in New Jersey, he noted.
Meanwhile, Hyland said he was disconcerted that so many on the county council had deep ties to developers and the real estate industry. “I owe nothing to real estate, to the large developers,” he declared. He said he favored “smart growth,” with a focus on preserving open space. Hyland said he supported “orderly growth with infrastructure,” such as schools and fire companies.
Robert Reed (R) for Sussex County Sheriff
Reed, a Sussex County native known for his efforts to get true law-enforcement powers for the county’s sheriff office, cited his military and police experience — two tours during the Vietnam War, 22 years in the Air Force, and service with the state Fish and Wildlife division, during which he received formal police training, before serving in the Georgetown Police Department for six years.
With more than six years behind him now as sheriff, Reed also cited his efforts to improve the service of civil processes in the office, with most served within two days and averaging just six days. He also cited his children’s programs through the office and the “Life File” program he originated.
Eric Swanson (D) for Sussex County Sheriff
Swanson’s representative laid out a simple statement of his credentials: 20 years with the Delaware State Police, a criminal-justice degree, service as a teacher at Sussex Technical High School and as a licensed private investigator.
Howard Clendaniel (D) for Sussex County Register of Wills
Despite the lack of an opponent at Oct. 27’s forum, the incumbent Clendaniel was on the defensive, protesting what he said were Republican candidate David Wilson’s attacks on his office, staff and personal life.
The former state assemblyman and majority whip, currently serving as chairman of the board of the Delaware Electric Cooperative, said Wilson had unfairly criticized Clendaniel’s hard-working staff and told voters that Clendaniel wouldn’t have the needed time to serve, with an ailing family member at home.
Clendaniel responded to the charges Friday, acknowledging that his wife has multiple sclerosis but saying she has a full-time caretaker, allowing him to serve in his elected office and with the energy company.
John Brady (R) for Sussex County Recorder of Deeds
Arriving after the event had begun, the unopposed Brady limited his remarks to a simple reminder for voters to cast their ballots on Nov. 7.
Corruption in government
Candidates for all offices were asked whether they knew of any corruption in government. While examples of illegal behavior were not cited by any candidate, most said they believed some kind of corruption existed at all levels, from conflicts of interest to abuse of power.
• Lifflander said she believed conflicts of interest do exist in government.
• VonBaumgart went further, saying, “There is a culture of corruption in Sussex County.” He cited both the influence of developers and “an arrogance of power.”
The Independent Party candidate for District 4 on the council said, “The people [currently] have no right to cross-examine developers or force them to produce data” to support conclusions presented before the county. “There is a clear conflict of interest with all five county councilmen having business interests in development,” he concluded.
• Maddex, addressing his hoped-for position in the state assembly, said too many decisions were being made behind closed doors. He called for more openness and more accountability.
• Hartley-Nagle noted that, in her opinion, there were “acts of omission, as well as commission.” She said elected officials should be looking into some things they could do — such as putting wind farms 5 miles off the state’s coast.
The Independent Party candidate for U.S. Congress said wind power is clean, with “no down side,” and that wind farms in New England had proven they could draw tourism and produce enough excess energy to make money for host areas. She also cited inheritance taxes that she said force family farmers to break up their farms. “Health before wealth,” she said, emphasizing that a clean environment is a necessity.
Jobs and education
• Spivack kicked off discussion by saying, “No Child Left Behind is a joke. It has to be repealed immediately.” He said teachers were forced to teach to a test on limited subjects, when education initiatives should instead be developed by teachers, with parents, administrators and politicians providing support. “Delaware is small enough to be a model,” he said.
Speaking to the preservation of higher-paying jobs in the state, Spivack noted recent conversations with longshoremen and General Motors; beach replenishment as a way to preserve jobs near the shore; and a call for an east-west transit system that could bring workers from inexpensive housing to jobs at the shore.
He also favored bio-diesel as a way to put farmers in charge of a forward-looking cooperative business and help develop a technology specialty that could put the state at the forefront of future business models. “We need political leaders, not politicians,” he concluded.
• Ting representative Warner noted the impact of illegal immigration on both education and jobs, saying that court decisions now prevent schools from even asking whether potential students are in the country legally. He extended the issue to the immigration amnesty provided to parents of those children, and championed school choice and vouchers as ways to improve education.
• VonBaumgart pointed to concerns over sustainable development in the county, with need for revamped tourism and economic development departments. He said the county needs to rebuild its agricultural base by diversifying even beyond soybeans for bio-diesel to corn and even micro-algae that could be used for energy and food sources.
• Lifflander joined with Hartley-Nagle to point to concerns over higher education. Lifflander quoted a statistic that says 90 percent of jobs will soon require a higher-education degree. Hartley-Nagle pointed to Bush administration cuts in education assistance, at the same time that the costs of higher education have skyrocketed by 55 percent. She said focus also needed to be put on educating the middle class and retiring workers so they could continue to provide trained workers.
• Brady, though limited in the scope of his office, also had input on education, saying that the state needed to look to recent studies showing the importance of partnerships between business and education to keep good jobs in an area. Brady said that his meetings with high school seniors were often the last time he saw those students, as they generally leave the state for better job markets. Without business/education partnerships, Brady said, the state stood to lose its greatest resource.
Moratorium on development
With managed growth a key focus of CBS, it was hardly unexpected that someone would raise the issue of a moratorium on development east of Route 113.
• VonBaumgart was quick to support the idea of a moratorium, expanding the suggested six months to a full year and citing a Cape Gazette poll showing 85 percent of respondents in favor of a one-year moratorium, and championing a moratorium’s ability to take power to the people.
• Hyland also supported a moratorium, citing an oft-quoted estimate that the county could see continued building for 15 years, just based on applications already approved by the county council. He also said he was waiting to see whether additional land-use bills would “have any teeth” to enforce restrictions on growth.
• A less optimistic voice came from state Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth/14th), who joined his neighbors to the south partway into the event. He said he felt more control over development was needed at the state level, since in an east-west match-up inside Sussex County, “The west has the juice. You can introduce [a moratorium] but it won’t get passed,” he predicted.
Schwartzkopf noted problems getting legislation for two additional county council seats to the state assembly floor for a vote, in what he called a litmus test for change, and said he believed nothing about development in the county would change until development pressure finally moved to the west – unless two additional seats are created.
The issue of the state’s minimum wage was posed directly to Hocker — who is well known to be opposed to a minimum wage hike, in favor of market controls — and other Republicans, with a notation that the federal minimum wage had long ago fallen behind inflation. Should the federal minimum wage not be raised from $5.15 to $7.25? With Hocker absent and no comment from Alberti on his behalf, the other candidates took up the issue.
• Maddex, facing Hocker on Nov. 7, was fully ready to support an increase. Calculating at the state’s higher minimum wage of $6.15, Maddex found a full-time worker at that wage, working a full year with no time off, would make just $13,000 per year. At the federal wage of $5.15, that’s just $10,700 per year. “That’s a very low salary,” he said, contrasting that wage with its image of “welfare mothers.” “These are people who work every day.”
• Brady had another point of view, saying he was the lowest-paid worker in his office and seeming to support Hocker’s stance of marketplace controls by voluntary wage setting. He said he paid all his workers above minimum wage and more than himself. He disdained that his Republican Party affiliation might be used as a label to lump him in with any kind of unfairness to employees.
• Ting campaign manager Warner noted that Ting favors an increase in the federal minimum wage.
• Spivack was quick to point out the difference between a minimum wage and a “livable wage.” “Anyone who would vote against an increase should have to live on minimum wage for two weeks,” he declared. “If they weren’t greedy,” he said, “they would think about the workers, the retirees on pensions, technology, retraining and healthcare.”
County pay scale lagging
Extending the issue, a question by an anonymous county employee noted that the U.S. average annual salary for a worker with just a high school diploma is $28,000, while those with a bachelor’s degree average $58,000. The county employee, with a bachelor’s degree, meanwhile, complained of making less than $25,000. They asked the candidates to address the issue.
• Spivack said an effort needed to be made on the issue, involving business and labor interests sitting down nationwide to create “a new paradigm” that wasn’t just business-versus-labor but instead focused on what the groups together could do. He said government should look offering “carrots” for business and taking away perks such as tax credits and subsidies to encourage them to pay employees a living wage rather than reaping record profits.
• Hartley-Nagle said she supported an increase in federal minimum wage as part of efforts toward improving wages. She said her own experience as a single mother had proven that it was difficult to make ends meet, and she tied in healthcare costs, noting the affect of sick employees on businesses and the effectiveness of preventative care.
• Lifflander noted the impact of the county’s burgeoning population of immigrants — some of them illegal — and proposed sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants, saying steps should be taken on a local level if the U.S. Congress doesn’t act.
• VonBaumgart addressed the issue of affordable housing, suggesting that changes to county building codes could help encourage innovations in construction that would result in more affordable housing for workers.
• Brady, for his part, found a more simple explanation for the questioner’s plight — county jobs originated as requiring only a high school diploma that are now filled by those with bachelor’s degrees. He said the county should look at reclassifying the jobs and hiking wages as appropriate for the education level required.
Are more police needed?
Reed was asked to address a cornerstone of his campaign — the need for sheriff’s deputies to have full law-enforcement powers. With police volunteer programs such as that in Ocean View, were more paid officers really needed? And Lifflander — literally — removed her candidate’s hat to join in as a constituent living in the unincorporated county, noting a six-month wait she’d had for state police to resolve a complaint, as well as slow response times.
• Reed supported the volunteer programs but said he felt that state police were overtaxed with their duties and unable to cover enough of the county with the officers available. He reiterated his previous findings that an empowered deputy would cost the county less than a state police trooper.
• Hartley-Nagle also supported empowerment of the deputies, noting her concerns about child predators and saying she planned to ask for $1 billion in federal funding to target such concerns, if elected.
• Swanson’s representative disputed Reed’s cost figures, saying he believed the difference Reed found was simply due to a difference in starting salaries between troopers and deputies.
Iraq policy important to local voters
While most of the event was spent addressing issues of deep local concern, the nation’s policy on the Iraq occupation was also the source of questions.
• Ting’s representative, Warner, emphasized that “stay the course is not a strategy” and noted that Bush had finally agreed on that point. He said the Iraqi people had proven they wanted democracy with a 70 percent voter turnout, compared to 7 percent in Delaware’s most recent vote, and that they would suffer with “cut and run” or “up and leave.” But Ting opposes Biden’s and Carper’s suggestion that the nation be divided up into three self-governing sections according to ethnic and religious makeup.
• Spivack noted his own service in Vietnam, a conflict that has often netted comparison to the situation in Iraq. He said the current situation in the country is something he foresaw from Day 1, and added that he took offense when Democrats were labeled as unpatriotic for opposing the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. He said the U.S. should focus on support and security for that nation, with help for its hospitals and schools a priority, and security help to be provided on its borders.
• Hartley-Nagle said her views were similar, as a one-time Democrat. But she advocated a firm withdrawal target of 12 to 18 months, saying the Bush policies would bankrupt the country while people at home were not being taken care of – referencing the failures of Hurricane Katrina.
County council targeted for change
VonBaumgart was asked whether he felt the county council could be changed — a pointed notion in the wake of Schwartzkopf’s earlier comments.
• VonBaumgart replied, “I like a challenge.” He said his focus, if elected, would be to get information to the public, through press releases and research, with long hours ready to be put in. Again referring to a “culture of corruption,” he said he would encourage public debate, innovation and new voices, instead of the existing “old-boy” network and the same balance of power.
• Hyland emphasized that the issue wasn’t a Democrat-versus-Republican debate, saying he could work with Cole to help bring about change. Phillips, he said, had “voted for every major development on the books” and proposed ordinances that could allow 20 units per acre, leading to sprawl.