Some high-ranking Sussex County Republicans have made it clear they will not back Vance Phillips in his run for re-election to Sussex County Council. The Sussex County Republican Committee Advisory Board has gone on record that it will not support nor endorse Phillips' re-election bid.
But the Laurel Republican, who has served on council since 1998, is undeterred in his determination to seek an eighth term. “Quitting is not in my DNA; public service is,” Phillips said.
In an email sent to Phillips last month, Sussex County Republican Chairman John Rieley strongly urged Phillips not to run. “It was the unanimous vote of the Republican District chairs that they would request that you reconsider your candidacy for the 5th Council seat and seriously consider not running,” he wrote in the March 30 email.
Phillips said he did take time to reconsider. “As long as it took me to respond 'nuts' '' he said. He said he is officially filing to run April 10 at the Sussex County Board of Elections.
During a March meeting, Sussex County Republican Committee Advisory Board voted not to endorse Phillips based on Phillips' pending civil litigation, Rieley said.
Katelynn Breana Dunlap of Lincoln filed a 17-page civil suit May 6, 2013, in Kent County Superior Court alleging Phillips sexually attacked and molested her on 10 separate occasions shortly after she turned 18 years old. The jury trial will take place in 2015.
Delaware State Police and the Attorney General's Office investigated Phillips after an anonymous letter circulated throughout Legislative Hall in Dover alleging Phillips had acted inappropriately in a matter involving a young woman. No criminal charges were filed against Phillips by either agency following the investigation.
“There will be a cloud of uncertainty about your legal status that will almost certainly be exploited by your opponent and possibly the press as well,” Rieley wrote.
Rieley also wrote that it was the collective opinion, not only of district officials but of other Republican Party members throughout the state, that the 5th District is in jeopardy of being lost to another party. “And, if for some unforeseen reason, the 4th District race did not go as planned we would run a high risk of losing control of the county council,” he wrote.
The 4th District seat is held by Republican George Cole, who is undecided on seeking another term.
“I am surprised at your apparent lack of awareness of the political landscape with regard to your own race. This is surprising because you have always been very astute politically,” Rieley wrote.
Phillips fired back at comments in the email. “For the chairman of the county party to be fighting a Republican when the Democrats have given us so much to fight them with is a sign of dysfunctional leadership,” Phillips said.
Phillips is council’s second-most senior member having served two terms as council president. A graduate of the University of Delaware, Phillips is a sixth-generation farmer and lifelong Sussex resident who lives and farms near Laurel. Phillips was seriously injured in an Oct. 30, 2011 ultra-light plane crash in Virginia and still faces mobility issues.
Phillips will face at least one other opponent in a Tuesday, Sept. 9 Republican primary; Harry Orvin Strickler of Frankford has filed for the 5th District seat. In addition, Democrat Bob Wheatley, the current chairman of the county's planning and zoning commission, recently announced his candidacy.