Radio talk show host Dan Gaffney called a segment of his Aug. 28 morning show “damned odd,” while Republicans locked in a primary battle for the Sussex County 5th District council seat called the show "crazy" and "surreal."
Call it what you want – bad timing, miscommunication or a calculated election-year ploy – an exchange on a local radio talk show has ignited swirling controversy.
During the segment, the two Republican candidates running for the District 5 seat both used up airtime. According to Gaffney, one of the two – incumbent Vance Phillips of Laurel – was not invited during that time slot. About half way through a scheduled interview and call-in session with Republican challenger Rob Arlett of Frankford, Phillips entered the studio and put on headphones.
Arlett welcomed Phillips, although he later said he was surprised to see him. Phillips said he was under the impression he was scheduled to debate Arlett, but would leave if asked.
After about 15 minutes of air time – including some testy exchanges between Phillips and Gaffney – the talk show host asked Phillips to leave the studio.
Gaffney told Phillips that the time had been allotted to Arlett, and a planned debate had been rescheduled at Phillips' request because he was scheduled for day surgery that morning. Phillips said the procedure had been rescheduled to the afternoon.
“He told me point-blank to pick another day,” Gaffney said after his show. “I really don't think he is thinking clearly.”
Gaffney later wrote on his blog “it was extremely clear that Vance would be appearing Tuesday [Sept. 3] at 9 a.m. and Rob was solo today [Aug. 28.]” Gaffney also published texts and emails that he and Phillips exchanged setting up the interview.
Phillips said he prayed Aug. 27, before the show, and he said the Lord wanted him to go into what he called “the viper pit.”
“I couldn't shake this,” he said. “I've never shied away from a debate.”
After the interview, Gaffney said, "Mr. Phillips needs to be more theologically sound and get God's word only from the Bible, and not from the voices in his own head."
Phillips said he was under the impression the debate was still on. “Dan Gaffney was in his element creating drama that was not there,” Phillips said.
Both candidates agreed to a Tuesday, Sept. 3, debate on Gaffney's show.
In the studio
Once he was in the studio, Phillips said he thought it would have been rude to leave. “The situation was surreal,” he said. “I couldn’t tell if he wanted me there or not. I think he wanted me there to create some drama.”
During the show, Phillips accused Gaffney of texting callers so they would call in to ambush him. Gaffney denied the accusation and offered to show Phillips his cellphone. “You told me you couldn't make today,” Gaffney said. “You are the only one ambushing.”
Gaffney than asked Phillips if he was on pain medication. “You are out of your mind,” he said.
Several listeners called, directing questions to Arlett while Phillips was there. Phillips commented on one question concerning land preservation. Arlett did not respond to Phillips' comments.
Phillips said he was off his game because he had not eaten in two days in preparation for an Aug. 28 colonoscopy. He said in retrospect he should have called the studio to tell them he was coming and was running late.
Gaffney apologized to Arlett, saying he was embarrassed by the turn of events. “I think I handled it all right, and it was interesting listening, but it doesn't make me feel good,” Gaffney said after his show.
“I'm not embarrassed for Dan. I'm embarrassed for my opponent; it's shameful,” Arlett said. “He's thinking that everything is always about him. This is nothing new because he's been doing it for years and years. This is just one little example of his intimidation. This election is not about him. I want to put the focus back on the people.”
Arlett said Phillips was putting the blame on Gaffney and trying to throw Gaffney under the bus. Arlett urged people to get on social media and describe what they heard on the show.
Interviewed after the radio show, Arlett said this is the second time Phillips has made an unscheduled appearance during the campaign. At a Delaware 9-12 Patriots candidates' forum, Phillips was not on the program, but he arrived at the function during the middle of Arlett's speech. Arlett said he's convinced that entrance and the radio show appearance were calculated events.
“The headline is this: Does Vance Phillips have good judgement? The answer is apparently not,” Arlett said.
District 5 extends from the Maryland line to the Atlantic Ocean, including the communities of Dagsboro, Delmar, Fenwick Island, Frankford, Laurel, Millville, Millsboro, Selbyville and South Bethany.
The primary is Tuesday, Sept. 9.
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