WDEL Blog: Allan Loudell

Reasons to get cynical about local politics: All in the family

People upstate sometimes look (snidely) at folks downstate for keeping politics "all in the family", literally or figuratively. The Brad/Andria Bennett switcheroo for State Representative is but the latest example, albeit with dad Representative John Viola north of the canal.

But downstate has no monopoly on such shenanigans. And at least the voters decided.

Upstate, we have two examples which might make the blood boil.

New Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams has named former State Treasurer Velda Jones Potter as his top strategy adviser. Really? Does he need one?

But quite apart from questions about the very essence of such a position, let's not forget Velda Jones Potter ran a notoriously inept campaign for State Treasurer. She lost in the Democratic primary to Chip Flowers, who went on to become State Treasurer. At the time, she came under heavy criticism for her "consulting contract" with the city, at the price of $150 an hour.

Okay, just because you're a tone-deaf campaigner doesn't necessarily mean you're not up to the job. (Although considering Velda Jones Potter was so poor a strategist for her OWN campaign - which, after all, is an ability to look at the 'big picture' - how could she be a great strategist or visionary for the city?)

Consider further: The new mayor's cousin and political ally is State Representative Charles Potter, who just happens to be the husband to Jones Potter. Too convenient?


Meanwhile, The Sunday NEWS JOURNAL reported Bill Shahan, one of the "reform" candidates for New Castle County Executive to run against Tom Gordon and Paul Clark (A pox on both their houses!) resigned / retired as a customer service and information technician just before Christmas; then, Gordon appointed Shahan as executive assistant for a higher salary. It gets better. Shahan gets a pension for his previous service, PLUS his new salary.

Let me get this straight: It's as if I quit a job at a radio station, collected a pension (getting comparatively rare in the private sector these days!); then got re-hired at that SAME radio station for a higher salaried position while STILL collecting that pension!

Bill Shahan ran as a "reform" candidate, and he always likes to remind folks how he FIRST entered the race. Yet, I always found it interesting how Shahan would hold his fire when it came to Gordon. And no sooner did the polls close last November, Shahan arrived at Gordon's victory party.

Inevitably, tongues wagged that Shahan ran for office with a hidden agenda of bleeding votes from then-incumbent Paul Clark (Although I know people who couldn't stomach Gordon OR Clark!). The other "reform" candidate - Jon Husband - retains his engineering & environmental gig with the county.

With pension and new salary combined, Shahan will make nearly $96,000 annually.



Posted at 7:08am on January 14, 2013 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

teatime
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 9:03am

Double pensions and patronage appointments. What a surprise in Delaware.

Would be curious to know if Mr. Loudell collects a pension from WILM from all those years of service and is now collecting a WDEL salary. Just wondering...

Allan Loudell
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 9:10am
Pensions? In radio? Are you kidding?

JimH
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 9:25am
I have had a practically lifelong love of politics, going back to the 1960 election. I was already a Republican, much to my Father’s disgust! He later saw the error of his ways and started supporting many of the same candidates as I did. But there the similarity ends. While his love of politics grew with age, mine is dying fast.
The fact our state has always had a strong connection between Democrats and Republicans has never bothered me. The so-called “Delaware Way” mostly got the job done and gave us gave us good leaders such as Pete DuPont, Mike Castle and Tom Carper. John J. Williams was famous nationwide in the 1950s and 60s as is Joe Biden today. Given the small size of our state, candidates know each other and often in the past were friends even when opposing each other on the ballot.

But those days are over. We no longer have one party running under two labels with two different organizations. The Republican Party is dead, killed by Tea (Party) poisoning. The G.O.P. is choosing not to run candidates for all offices, even above the General Assembly level. I see their point, why waste the money? But for democracy to work, there must be competition and accountability.
Those few Republicans in office know they have free reign to do as they wish. The fact they are in office means voters are not paying attention. Democrats only need fear a primary. Even then they can play both sides and still survive. Will this change? Not anytime soon. Until we have two, near-equal political forces, reform cannot happen. We will not have a level playing field until voters begin to care about abuse.

Mike from Delaware
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 10:32am
JimH: Well said.

kavips
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 10:38am
Allan, I've got to challenge you on a couple of premises here, because they are directly different than I seem to remember.

The first charge is whether Velda's campaign was inept. If you mean she didn't win, then I'd have to challenge you by saying Mike Castle by the same criteria was totally unfit for any appointment too. I remember that campaign, because I had no idea of which candidate I was to support. I saw two head-to-heads and Velda held her own. She had the support of Markell's people working to get her back into "his" treasury, but in the second appearance Chip really stepped up and got my vote, and I assume that enthusiasm is what led him to victory in others minds as well.

And using the Mike Castle analogy again, (rounding the totals this time), she lost by only 3000 votes in a statewide race and only by a 46-54 margin, when Castle lost by a 47-53 margin. Not enough to call her inept, without extending the same attribute to Mike Castle himself.

As you well know, only one vote shifting out of twenty with those odds, would have put her in the running and kicked Flowers back to the garden....

Since your recollection is so different from mine (which is rare), I'm asking for your input on how you deduced she ran (if you want to blame her) an inept campaign?

Secondly. Her qualifications. SHE WAS STATE TREASURER. How many other people alive in this state have such qualifications? Let's see... Markell, nope, not available. Flowers, nope, not available. Ummm. Janet C. Rzewnicki, nope, wrong party.

Really. What better experience could one bring to the Wilmington City Government?

As to her consulting fee, (I'm not sure what time frame this occurred, I'm only hearing about it now), but her consulting fees, are a pretty low level in today's consulting fee market... Plus, if she was the former state treasurer, then, there is a rather valid argument that you were probably getting the best for your money. The other option would to bring someone in from New York or Philadelphia who would charge three times that amount, and spend a very long time getting to know the intricacies of how Delaware worked...

On to Shahan. Let's re-examine history here. In early March, I heard Shahan, Clark, and Bill Dunn all speak at a head-to-head. There was no Gordon. No one even thought of Tom Gorden at that point except from the view in which he was last represented, which was in US Circuit Court. To think that originally Bill ran with Gordon's blessing, stretches the truth beyond doubt. Looking backwards one can say, oh, Gorden won, hired Shahan, something must be up. But, they ignore a full 2 1/2 months of history when making that up.

Bill actually surprised some of us by how well he campaigned towards the end. All the oxygen had been sucked out by the two giants running so he had no votes, but on the issues he surprised me with a couple of viable ideas I'd not heard before. I do not think he was ready for being bashed by politics to the extent which that role would entail, but he was definitely probably the best person running as far as honesty, integrity, and those nice fuzzy traits we always like to see in elected officials.

I would counter he was smart to run to Gordon after gathering only 6,000 votes. I think he came in fourth with around 10% of the vote. I don't think he'd continue to have a job if Clark had won, after what he'd said about him. I'd too if in his shoes, would have headed over to make my peace with Gordon after that win.... Just to be polite and practical if nothing else.

As for Shahan holding his fire against Gordon, if Gordon hadn't entered, Shahan who was running against the Clark way of running New Castle County, would have run on the same platform as did Gordon, which basically was the need to return things to how they used to be back when everything worked... which of course, was Gordon's time... Communities were involved, not shut out. Traffic studies were done correctly, not by the lawyer for the developer ... Things like that. It would be hard for Shahan to criticize his own ideas being spouted by another person, just like it would be hard in a WDEL panel discussion for you to criticize Peter MacArthur or Amy Cherry... You could, but if you did, it would backfire as it was later brought out just how similar you all actually were.

So from Gordon's perspective, Shahan is probably the best person for the job. He has the allegiance of a lot of county workers, and has impeccable honesty and integrity credentials, probably a valuable commodity in an administration that was previously hauled into Federal Court...

As for the salary, if Gordon was hiring him not as a payback (which I hope I just proved was impossible), but as being the best person which could be found for that position, how fair is that to say, "sorry, Bill, the job is listed at $96,000 but I'm putting you in at a lot less than that amount.... Really? No one I know is happy getting a promotion with twice the amount of stress and work, then being told they would keep the same salary as they previously had... Some things are just wrong.

And, considering the turnaround, which is very short, under every pension guideline which I am familiar with, pensions terminate not with the end of service date, but when the next installment is due. Therefore, the pension if paid up through the end of the first quarter, was still in effect when he gets hired, why wouldn't one continue it?

In other words, what is the point of having the county go through all the paperwork to close out the pension, pay it off, and then open up a new account and begin paying into it again?

It is simply part of the compensation package...

I'm not sure if you have ever had to pick out your own staff before but it is determined by two things. One, who is the best? And two, who is available? The third which is particularly important in a leadership role, is: ... will this person be working for me to help push forward my agenda, or, working against me for some future opportunity...

I think these two candidates based on what little I have seen certainly meet the criteria of one, two, and three.
The fact that there are other appearances, common as you say in a small state like ours, which are primarily being trumpeted from those parties supporting those who lost, is unfortunate. The verdict rests in how each of these two entities will run. Based on Gordon's past, there is reason to believe he knows exactly what he is doing. Dennis so far has picked the best police chief for neighborhood involvement ever, and a former state treasurer who was "approved" by the former treasurer and current governor himself... Jack Markell.. Thereby giving him direct access to the governor, and... keeping his biggest city supporter firmly on his side. Now, how could that be bad?












teatime
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 12:40pm
Sorry for the dumb question. I don't know much about radio, but I do know there has been severe patronage in this state, including ex-legislators (and their relatives) getting hooked up into cushy state jobs. For example, what type of background did Senator Sharp have to earn him a spot as Labor Secretary?


Allan Loudell
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 1:31pm
kavips,

Let's keep our eye on the ball. The POSITION to which Mayor Williams has appointed Velda Jones Potter is "top strategy adviser", not city treasurer. That implies a visionary, big picture person.

From my vantage point, she has given little evidence that she qualifies in that regard, especially to trump the notion that this represents political and family payback.

Paradoxically, current Treasurer Chip Flowers, who defeated Jones Potter in the Democratic primary, has gotten into trouble for being precisely the opposite: Being too visionary, "big picture" for an office which has obvious constraints, some of them imposed in reaction to the last G.O.P. state Treasurer, Janet Rzewnicki.

And yes, Velda Potter Jones - in my judgment - exercised political tone deafness with regard to the negative effects of accepting that consulting fee during a period of austerity for the city. Unless she would NOT run for the office of State Treasurer, which, by the way, she had pledged at the beginning.

And her campaign's dealings with the media were sophomoric, as I once chronicled here when trying to set up a candidates' debate.

And to teatime: Yes, critics bemoaned the pick of Senator Tom Sharp for Labor Secretary. Exactly what experience did he bring to the position? What affinity did he ever demonstrate for labor? Granted, he had once been a sheet-metal worker. But Governor Minner's appointment of Sharp was generally seen as a crony appointment at the time; a man neither pleasant nor particularly astute (in a big picture sense), basically known for his authoritarian tendencies in Dover (He was quite astute at cracking knuckles -- metaphorically, of course!)

To the race for the Democratic nomination for New Castle County Executive: Bill Shahan was running AGAINST Tom Gordon. This was a political race. It's NOT the same as a panel discussion involving employees working for a private company.

But the idea of collecting a pension for a job from which you just retired, and then coming back to collect a new salary (bigger than the previous one) while STILL collecting that pension is another example of political tone deafness... when so many people in the private sector can't even count on pensions anymore, let alone come back to the previous employer within weeks and earn that pension PLUS a new greater salary.

To the Mike Castle analogy: Apples and oranges. Really. To compare a former Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and U.S. Representative to the former appointed State Treasurer sheds little light, in my view.

As I covered in great detail on this blog, Castle was a victim of the growing southern, Tea Party base to his party; the migration of upstate Chateau Country Republicans to the Democratic Party's primary to vote for Jack Markell and/or Barack Obama; and yes, complacency by most Republicans upstate. Granted, some of us saw that Tea Party train coming down the tracks earlier than Castle's organization and the upstate G.O.P. Beyond that, even if Mike Castle and his people SAW that train - before it was too late - what was Castle going to do -- Shift to the hard right? It would've killed one of Castle's great assets: Authenticity. Consequently, he probably would've been toast in the general election even if he had survived the G.O.P. primary.

Allan Loudell

mrpizza
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 8:46pm
Teatime: My best guess is that Allan probably has a 401-K or other private investment not tied to an employer which he's carried with him and paid into all his working life. In any event, it's HIS money.


mrpizza
Mon, Jan 14, 2013 11:06pm
Here's another totally great concert video, which I've watched twice just today. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Following are two links, one for the first half of the concert, the other for the second:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEOIgOXO8j4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmSL9k15f6k

kavips
Tue, Jan 15, 2013 2:05am
Thank you Allan for your explanation. I can see better how you would classify them as such now that I've seen your perspective. Trust me, this morning your opinions looked like they came way out from left field based on the reality as I knew it.....

Not to quibble about the past, but your new comment provided a new insight which I'll throw back at you.. Considering how Dennis Williams would be considered more of a visionary than a numbers guy, doesn't it make good sense to put a "numbers" person in as his top strategy advisor instead of another visionary, thereby compensating for his personal weakness? Working for visionaries is extremely difficult if you are their numbers guy. Working for two, I think could be tragic. Having a top strategist who can say... "nope, the numbers don't work", should be a mandatory requirement.

I still say, based on the achievement of balance, both these appointees look rather well put...

Since this morning I learned more about Shahan's deal. One, the pension does not come out of County Government. It comes from a separate pension fund (350 million) including money Shahan himself paid into the account as well as his interest. Had he not been rehired, this would still have been paid off anyway.. Bill is coming back at half the salary of his predecessor was paid by the Clark administration, which would come under a direct expense category and therefore Bill's compensation saves roughly $60,000 of taxpayer monies every single year....

It actually makes Gordon look like a genius.




Allan Loudell
Tue, Jan 15, 2013 5:48am
kavips...

Good points. You have a different way of looking at things.

I would point out, however, that the Mayor will already be getting financial expertise from the city treasurer; auditor; and economic development director.

Allan Loudell

kavips
Tue, Jan 15, 2013 10:34am
Lol, since everyone is eternally young here, I don't know if anyone noticed or cares that the 50th Anniversary of the Stones' first gig with all their major band members took place on Sunday... That was the trial performance and then by the next weekend, January 23rd, 1963, the bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts became permanent members.

http://www.timeisonourside.com/chron1963.html

50 years. Wow.

Mike from Delaware
Tue, Jan 15, 2013 1:11pm
Kavips: That is a milestone. Fifty years. Mick and the Stones still doing it too.

I had to laugh at Al Mascitti's comment a couple of weeks ago: I'm obviously paraphrasing Al's words: Where he said it does seem strange to hear Mick Jaggar still singing he can't get no satisfaction, really AFTER 50 YEARS?? Mick has had many of the most beautiful women in the entertaining world and he still can't find no satisfaction??

It was a funny tongue-in-cheek comment that Al does so well.

Arthur
Tue, Jan 15, 2013 2:20pm
Keeping it all in the (political) family. How does Jim Baker receive the state's highest honor for his tenure as mayor when in that time - crime, especially violent crime, skyrocketed. Revenue fled the city in both jobs and citizens. Poverty rose considerably and besides political cronies, he alienated every other city union? Usually, people get fired for that, but Capt. Jack threw roses at his feet.


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