How’s Markell doing? Delawareans not shy about letting him know

October 22, 2013

New York City Mayor Ed Koch was famous for walking around town asking people, “How am I doing?”

According to Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, he doesn’t even have to ask. “I have a pretty good sense of how we’re doing in this administration when I’m out on the street.”

People, he said, feel very free to “tell me things we’re doing well and things we could be doing better.”

Markell got an especially big earful recently at a town meeting hosted by the Cape Gazette and WGMD. Markell was accompanied by his cabinet, and if any reader knows of a similar showing by a governor and his staff elsewhere in the country I’d like to hear about it. It’s an astonishing collective commitment of time by the state’s top officials.

Before the meeting, Markell said, Lewes Mayor Jim Ford remarked on the large crowd at the Cape Henlopen High School theatre.

“Yes, it is a big crowd,” Markell said he replied. “And I’m guessing they all didn’t come here to tell me what a great job I’m doing.”

He was correct.

While the questioners were generally respectful, they didn’t exactly try to hide their discontent or even anger. If nothing else, the evening provided a short course in civics: Governing is hard.

Take the question from a sixth-generation farmer of Frankford. He began by noting both agriculture’s preeminent position in the state’s economy and the continuing uproar over a proposed Route 113 bypass.

With all due respect, he began - a good sign the question won’t be entirely friendly - why sacrifice valuable farmland when a viable alternative already exists along the current Route 113 corridor?

(One proposal would place the bypass north of Millsboro, a plan that has met with much opposition.)

This is a good, tough question about an impossible issue - not that it can’t or won’t be resolved, but impossible in the sense that any resolution will make a lot of people mad.

Route 113 traffic is a mess. Inability to deal with the long-term transportation issue would ultimately affect the region’s economic growth.

But there will be tradeoffs, as DelDOT Secretary Shailen Bhatt made clear when Markell handed the question over to him.

If DelDOT announced tomorrow that it had chosen to use the existing corridor, Bhatt said, another group of people would be at the next meeting complaining their land was being taken away.

He compared it to Route 1. With that project, he said, “I guarantee we took some farms, I guarantee we took some private land.”

And yet, he said, “Can you imagine the state today without Route 1?”

Actually, I can. I imagine that without Route 1 it would take about a half hour just to get through Dover’s traffic lights.

The project, by the way, will take about 30 years, so Markell will take much of the heat while the project creeps along, but will be long gone before any benefits become clear.

That seems to be a common theme for the Markell Administration.

A Millsboro man asked pointedly about the state’s contract with Bloom Energy, whose “Bloom Box” fuel cells, he said, are “neither green nor efficient,” citing the technology’s high cost to produce electricity. (The state provided millions in incentives to bring the Bloom factory here.)

Markell defended the deal, naming companies such as Google and Apple, that already use the fuel cells.

Bloom CEO KR Sridhar, in the News-Journal, painted a rosy picture of the company’s future: 900 jobs at the Delaware plant, as the plant exports its products worldwide. But it’s far from certain those jobs will materialize before Markell leaves office, if they materialize at all.

Another investment Markell has made is in education. In response to a woman’s question about how too many black children go “from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse,” the governor talked about the state’s efforts to get more children into pre-school.

According to a Federal Reserve study, Markell said, the best investment a state can make in its economy is early childhood education. So about three years ago, when some money became available to fund one new initiative, that’s where Markell put the money.

The result, he said, is the state has been able to increase the ratio of low-income children enrolled in preschool from one in 20 to one in three.

“We believe that this is a game-changer,” Markell said. But like other projects he’s working on, this initiative won’t change the game until after the clock has run out on his administration.

“It’s good to be king,” said the Mel Brooks character in “History of World, Part I.” That night Markell talked about how blessed he felt to be governor.

The difference is, a king doesn’t have to attend town hall meetings. I suppose the governor doesn’t either, but it’s credit to him that he does.

Don Flood is a former newspaper editor living near Lewes. He can be reached at


  • 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.

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