Election may be over, but work on next one begins

December 4, 2012

You may be glad that the election is over and that we can all forget about politics for a while.

If so, you don’t play the political game very seriously. For true politicians and operatives, the contest began anew the morning after Election Day.

Among those already looking ahead to 2014 is Betty Deacon of Lewes, a proud community organizer from Baltimore, Md., who bought her Sandy Brae house 20 years ago. A former state director of volunteers for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, Deacon retired six years ago and moved here full-time.

“I was going to write my memoirs and sit on the beach and read,” Deacon said.

That’s not how it turned out, something that Mikulski herself might have been able to predict.

Following a tough election loss for Mary Pat Clarke, a Baltimore city councilwoman for whom she was working, Deacon was asked by Mikulski to interview for the state director job.

Deacon tried to anticipate Mikulski’s questions, but Mikulski threw her a curve. You’ve just run a grueling campaign with Clarke and you lost, Mikulski said, do you still have the energy to do this kind of job?

Deacon said she hesitated and then replied, “You know, Barbara, when I’m in a community group, and we’re talking … and some stupid bureaucrat or politician says, ‘Oh, we can’t do that’ or ‘That’s not the way you should do it,’ my gut starts going and I get so angry I can't sit still. I have to get up and do something about it!

“And Barbara said, ‘You’re hired.’”

Shortly after moving here full-time, Deacon’s gut started going because of plans to turn Plantation Road, just west of Sandy Brae, into a four-lane highway.

That’s when Deacon began working with another transplant, Joan Deaver, who lives on Plantation Road.

Together they formed a coalition to stop the planned highway, banking on Deacon’s experience as a community organizer.

“We went to all the developments, talked to their associations, went to the Israel United Methodist Church - I don’t think anyone had talked to the African-Americans in that church before,” Deacon said.

When someone offered a clubhouse for a coalition meeting, Deacon suggested asking Israel UMC instead. The church agreed. “That was my Saul Alinsky training,” Deacon laughed, referring to the well-known community organizer who died in 1972.

The coalition succeeded and later Deacon asked Deaver to run for county council, offering to manage her campaign. Deacon provided a week-by-week plan: recruiting volunteers, developing a budget, talking to community leaders - all the nuts and bolts of running for office.

“We executed the plan and she won,” Deacon said. This year Deacon helped get Deaver re-elected.

But her political gaze extends beyond the Cape Region. This fall she also helped managed the campaign of Gary Wolfe, who challenged Sam Wilson for the Second District, which extends from Georgetown to Greenwood.

Wolfe lost, but she considers his campaign a good start. She’s determined to do something about the Republicans’ 4-1 advantage on council. (Deaver’s the lone Democrat.) “County council will be my main focus,” she said.

She’s already looking for someone to run against Vance Phillips in the Fifth District.

But it’s more than just finding the right person. You have to go out and talk to people, she said. “You have to figure out what the issues are and how you shape those issues.”

You can bet Deacon will be among those shaping the 2014 election.

Political game remains the same

“Lincoln,” the new movie by Steven Spielberg, doesn’t quite live up to its many four-star reviews. It could be shorter and some of the scenes are more hokey than inspiring.

But it’s the best film portrait I’ve seen of the Civil War president. Too often he’s depicted simply as the Great Man - almost demigod - who leads the nation through sheer nobility of language and purpose.

“Lincoln” shows him closer to what he must have been: a smart, cagey politician who was willing to bend the rules - oh heck, break a few - to get what he wanted. In this case, it was the passage of the 13th Amendment, ending slavery. It also shows his family life as less than domestic bliss.

Americans too often get the impression that we live in a time of unusually venal, small-minded leaders. Politics has always been an ugly, sausage-making business, even among those we consider our greatest statesmen. “Lincoln,” playing now at Midway, serves as a good reminder.

‘White Gold’ worth searching for

There’s no political connection, but I’d also like to recommend “White Gold,” a documentary about the oyster industry in Delaware Bay. Produced by 302 Stories - the “302” refers to Delaware’s Area Code, not the number of stories - the film was one of the highlights of the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival. It includes an interview with Delaware historian Russ McCabe of Milton. People interested in Delaware’s maritime heritage should make of point of seeing it.

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.