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9/16/2012
"Weiner & Other County Council Members Concerned About Gordon" - News Journal

“We’re concerned enough about Mr. Gordon’s past conduct that we’re already meeting about council’s first line of defense against a future Gordon administration, well before the general election,” Councilman Bob Weiner said.

Council members Weiner, Janet Kilpatrick, George Smiley and Jea Street said Gordon’s reputation for governmental hijinx makes the issue worth looking into. The issue came up two weeks ago, before the primary, when council members were upset after a county attorney with the Clark administration recently searched the council’s email system without council’s knowledge to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request.


Gordon looks ahead to county challenges
Adam Taylor News Journal 9/16/12

David Grimaldi, Tom Gordon’s campaign manager, walked up to the candidate Thursday morning to show him a message on his phone.

A resident had called Grimaldi about a rumor that a real estate project in Pike Creek might get fast-tracked now that New Castle County Executive Paul Clark, after Tuesday’s Democratic primary loss to Gordon, is a lame duck. Gordon has a reputation of being tougher on developers than Clark.

Gordon looked at the phone and nodded.

“I’ll call some council people to keep an eye on it,” he said. “It makes sense to not rush development through now. Paul and I have very different philosophies on it. I want more community input.”

It seems Gordon is already on the job, two months before November’s general election against a longshot Republican and four months before he would be sworn in. Gordon said he is not taking November’s contest against GOP challenger Mark Blake for granted, but doesn’t want to wait until he takes office to get started.

“We can’t afford to wait until January,” Gordon said. “There’s too much work to do.”

County Department of Land Use general manager David Culver said Friday he’s not aware of any efforts to speed up approvals for projects after Tuesday’s primary results.

Gordon is not the only one getting an early jump on the probable new Gordon administration. County Council, a body that Gordon infamously feuded with when he was county executive the first time, from 1997 to 2004, is getting ready for the possibility as well.

The council is already discussing whether to install a separate computer system for the council – a six-figure expense – due to concerns that a Gordon administration might secretly tap into council’s information.

“We’re concerned enough about Mr. Gordon’s past conduct that we’re already meeting about council’s first line of defense against a future Gordon administration, well before the general election,” Councilman Bob Weiner said.

Gordon said the new system won’t be necessary because his administration would never try to access the council’s computers.

First steps

Despite the council’s worries, last week was still the time for Gordon to celebrate his victory.

He spent much of Thursday morning with three other Democratic primary winners: Wilmington mayoral candidate Dennis Williams, state House candidate Charles Potter Jr. and County Council president-hopeful Christopher Bullock.

Fresh off their primary victories and full of confidence as a new political force that could help decide future gubernatorial and upstate legislative elections, Gordon and the others are dreaming big. At a strategy session held at Potter’s insurance and mortgage office in Wilmington, the foursome talked about running county and city governments without having to raise taxes, cut services, lay off employees or ask workers for pay cuts.

To achieve that, the officials are considering approaching Gov. Jack Markell and the state Legislature about changing a tax structure they say has roughly two-thirds of the state’s revenue coming from New Castle County, but gets split more evenly between the three counties.

“It’s an old, broken model that needs to be addressed,” Gordon said.

Gordon said he realizes the grand idea to broker a revenue-sharing deal with the state that favors New Castle County would take time to achieve. He will have a short-term financial plan crafted by the time he takes office in January, he said.

At that time, the first order of business will be to come up with a way to reduce the projected deficits in the next five years, overhaul the Unified Development Code and meet with employees to begin to boost morale, he said.

Gordon said he had not decided who his appointees would be to the top positions of chief of staff, chief administrative officer, county attorney and Department of Land Use general manager.

He wants to restart, expand or improve initiatives that existed during his past administrations that have waned. Examples include an expansion of the police department’s mounted patrol, returning the annual Ice Cream Festival to its past glory, and bringing back the Sleeping Under the Stars program at Carousel and Rockwood parks.

None of the plans would cost a lot of public money, he said. He expects private companies to help with the festivals and programs at the parks, which featured Gordon dressing up as the Grinch during Christmas shows.

“I think those things were the most fun I had as executive,” Gordon said. “They were much-needed family events. People got to come to Rockwood Park and pretend that they were aristocrats for a day.”

Gordon said he will not change his attention to detail that he insisted upon during his former tenure. He learned from studying the private sector that appearances and perceptions count. For example, a police car without a hub cap won’t leave the parking lot.

“Anything we’re going to do, we’re going to do in grand style and it’s going to be the best,” Gordon said.

The road back

After the strategy session, Gordon, Bullock, Williams and Potter went to Libby’s Restaurant in downtown Wilmington where many politicians gather for breakfast.

A man outside recognized them, and told a group of men hanging out in front of a barber shop next door, “All the winners are in there.”

Gordon said the praise would have been a boost to his ego 10 years ago. No longer, he said.

“I used to think people loved me back then,” Gordon said. “Now I realize it’s the office they love.”

Gordon said he got nearly 100 phone calls Wednesday morning, but he’s unfazed by his newfound popularity since Tuesday’s victory. He attributes that perspective to the lonely aftermath of a federal corruption probe that disgraced his reputation.

“For the last eight years, I haven’t been able to get a return phone call,” Gordon said. “Now I’m getting calls from people I haven’t talked to in all that time. I think they could have called at some point to see how I’m doing.”

Some of the calls came from county employees who overtly supported Clark during the campaign but who covertly were helping him.

He said those people might be sadly mistaken if they think they will be rewarded for their efforts.

“Sometimes the best people to consider for positions are the loyal ones,” Gordon said. “I’d rather have the ones who went down with the ship than the ones who were feeding me information about their boss.”

County executives are only allowed to serve two consecutive four-year terms by law. So he didn’t try to run in 2004, but did so in 2008, and lost soundly to Chris Coons, now a U.S. senator.

Many questioned why he would run again after the corruption probe, which included felony charges, but ended with him pleading guilty to two lesser counts related to two county workers doing political work during the workday.

During the 2008 campaign, one person suggested to Gordon that if he wanted redemption, he should go to church. After he lost, he thought that sentiment might be correct.

“After 2008, I was done with politics,” Gordon said.

But he chose to run again this year, saying that Clark’s close ties to developers was his motivating force. The 13-percent margin of victory over Clark gave him a sense of vindication, he said.

“I think Tuesday’s election results proves that the perception of me by some is not what the public thinks about me,” Gordon said.

Land-use attorney Larry Tarabicos agreed. He said he was turned off by the anti-Gordon campaign fliers that highlighted his 2004 indictment but failed to mention that the majority of the case was dismissed because of the plea deal.

“What are we saying in society if someone is a bad person if they got accused of something but was never proven guilty of having done it?” Tarabicos said.

A new attitude?

While Gordon, now 60, says he’s older and wiser, many people think the more important question is whether he’s kinder and gentler.

Gordon maintains that his reputation of being a leader who punished his enemies was unfounded, so he doesn’t feel the need to make adjustments.

One change he said he will make is to work eight-hour days instead of 10- and 12-hour ones, mistakes he made early in his time as police chief and county executive.

Gordon said he tried to rest on Wednesday. He’d been working 12-hour days all summer on the campaign. He slept in, worked on his garage door and drove to Odessa with his family to buy a bushel of crabs that he brought home for dinner.

“I just reconnected,” Gordon said. “We have fish and birds as pets and I asked if they were still alive, because I haven’t seen them in months. Luckily, they’re still here.”

He said he would heed the advice given to him during a phone call he received while at the Acme Wednesday morning from Vice President Joe Biden, whom Gordon said has been his close friend for more than 40 years. They met when Gordon was an office worker at a law firm where Biden worked in the late 1960s.

“He told me how proud he is of me,” Gordon said. “He told me to keep things positive and remain magnanimous.”

Some County Council members aren’t certain about Gordon’s level of magnanimity, which is why they’re looking into the expensive new computer system.

Council members Weiner, Janet Kilpatrick, George Smiley and Jea Street said Gordon’s reputation for governmental hijinx makes the issue worth looking into. The issue came up two weeks ago, before the primary, when council members were upset after a county attorney with the Clark administration recently searched the council’s email system without council’s knowledge to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request.

“There is a history there with there being a contentious relationship,” between the former Gordon administration and council, Street said. “Any door you leave open for potential mischief across the aisle is just that, and I don’t see a way out of this other than a separate system.”

Some worried.

Weiner worries Gordon’s former top aide Sherry Freebery will be in the background and a member of Gordon’s “kitchen cabinet.” Freebery was also indicted and also reached a plea agreement. Gordon said she would have no role in his administration.

Smiley is concerned that county employees were promised raises the government can’t afford to give. All the workers’ unions endorsed Gordon. Clark got the workers to agree to 2.5-percent pay cut in the form of a new health-care surcharge. Clark told the employees layoffs would have been necessary if the cuts weren’t accepted.

“I was surprised and disappointed by the primary result,” Smiley said. “I remain confident that this council, regardless of what promises that anyone made, will continue to hold the line on fiscal restraint and responsibility.”

Gordon said he didn’t promise any raises.

“You can’t do that with the county’s fiscal situation,” Gordon said. “If anybody can straighten it out, I can. I said they would be fairly compensated.”

Former County Councilman Rich Abbott, now a land-use attorney, was one of the targets for which Gordon used county employees to do political work. He lost his re-election bid to Gordon-supported Bill Tansey by nine votes. Federal prosecutors have said that Gordon is on tape saying he’d wreck Abbott’s legal career if he could.

Abbott said he’s worried that Gordon might put the word out to developers to not use him as an attorney.

“Hope springs eternal,” Abbott said. “Maybe he’s turned over a new leaf, but I doubt it.”

Abbott sees a potential silver living. A Gordon administration could lead to more people suing the county for unfair decisions, he said.

“It could be bad for the land-use end of my practice, but it could be very good on the litigation end,” Abbott said. “I’ll get a piece of that, because I’m one of the few attorneys who knows how to, and dares to, litigate against the county.”

Gordon called Abbott’s comments “ridiculous.”

“I want the land-use process to be fair and equal for everybody,” Gordon said. “After all I’ve been through, the last thing I would ever do it put a hit out on somebody like that.”

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