The sham of the RD4 session to nominate the Democratic candidate for the March 5 special election took place on Tuesday evening.
The special election is happening because Rep. Gerald Brady, notable for using racist slurs in an email, recently resigned, citing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The same district committee that did nothing to publicly refute or otherwise condemn Brady’s racist behavior was now meeting to select the Democratic Party candidate for the upcoming special election. Republicans will also nominate their own candidate, and the winner of the election will finish out the remaining eight months of Brady’s term. The excuse for this nomination process is that there is not time to conduct a primary election and let voters choose their own candidate, so the party must step in instead. In practice, this method of candidate selection keeps the decision-making power in the hands of the established party powers.
In this case, a group of people who had previously decided that racism was not a big deal was in charge of deciding between a woman of color and a white man to represent their district in the upcoming election. In short, it was pretty much the epitome of the old-boys’ club “Delaware Way” that so many in Delaware are tired of being controlled by and are working to eradicate.
The Delaware Way requires people to fall in line, lest their chance for a seat at the table be taken away by those who pull the strings. And this meeting showed many instances of strings being pulled. The party showed their preference for one mediocre candidate wanting to sit in a seat and vote the party line over a qualified one with fresh ideas and excitement to work for life-changing legislation.
The meeting was supposed to start at 6pm. However, various voting members had trouble joining the Zoom. The reasons were not clear, but by 6:20pm we were still waiting, and the person with “DelDems Staff Member” on their Zoom name, Sarah Fulton, was busy on their cell phone talking to people who I assume were asking for help in joining the meeting.
The lack of visible diversity in the group did not appear to be reflective of the soon-to-move-to-Sussex-County 4th district, which still includes a significant chunk of the city of Wilmington at present. Only one person voting on Tuesday was not white.
Cassandra Marshall, the DelDems Wilmington chair who presided over the meeting but did not vote in it, said “it is imperative we have another Democrat elected to the seat.”
Kat Caudle, New Castle County DelDems Chair, also emphasized it was important that the Democratic candidate win the election. Caudle joined Marshall in strongly hinting that the only thing the Democratic committee in the 4th District cared about was whether or not the person was a career politician. Consideration of the constituents of the district did not appear to be a point of concern.
A funny moment came when a committee member shared their screen to show a picture of an American flag for the purposes of a Pledge of Allegiance. When they did so, the handful of other tabs in their browser were visible, and one of them was clearly a recent Delaware Liberal piece accurately predicting that The Delaware Way would win the night.
Marshall opened the floor for nominations. Mary Dugan nominated Bud Freel, and someone seconded.
Marshall then asked for any other nominations, and Mark Purpura nominated Dr Adriana Bohm.
Lynn Fuller jumped in to say “I’m not seconding Adriana but someone needs to.” John Lippy and Susan Dods both raised their hands, with Lippy officially seconding the nomination of Bohm and Dods confirming she was going to do the same if needed.
Freel got on camera in a dimly lit room, and proceeded to read his stump speech off of a piece of paper, glancing up every so often to convince people he did know we were all there watching.
He talked about a lot of things about his personal and professional life. He made a point of noting that he had a real estate license in the 90s, which I was surprised to learn is apparently a thing you want to point out when running for elected office.
He listed a lot of years and titles of various things in an attempt to show his experience. He sounded bored. He then moved on to his accomplishments, which included expanding a city-wide camera surveillance program. He’s been on various boards and talked up that experience, which was interesting because that topic came up later in Q&A as a point against Bohm.
“Why did I submit my name?” Freel asked himself. He said there were two main reasons: he has experience in different branches of government, and he’ll vote party line.
I didn’t get a sense for why the residents of RD4 would be excited about him, or what unique good he would do for his soon-to-be constituents over the next eight months. It sounded like both Freel and the majority of RD4 Democratic committee voters were ready to phone it in with a “safe” win and minimal effort.
Marshall then opened up the question and answer round, where the voting members of the RD4 committee could ask questions to the nominated candidate.
John Lippy started off Freel’s questioning. Lippy pointed out that Freel had previously been recorded talking about the importance of breaking glass ceilings and giving opportunity to women of color specifically. “You wanted to pass the torch to the next generation,” Lippy said. “Do you still agree with your statements that you gave when you were retiring and would you be willing to step aside?”
Freel of course denied that he had any responsibility to fulfill this promise at this time. “I have supported numerous women and people of color.” (I have heard that supporting women and people of color is like a checklist – you only have to do that once or twice and then you are good!) “This seat is going away in 8 months, and I felt strongly the candidate should be someone with experience, and [who] is not looking down the road to be re-elected or challenge another candidate. I am not willing to step aside.”
I found that last comment about not challenging another candidate particularly grating. This topic came up about as many times as the question of Bohm’s school board position as the evening continued, and many of the RD4 voters refused to believe Bohm when she promised time and time again that she would not run against Rep. Krista Griffith, who will soon become the incumbent for most of what is now RD4 due to redistricting. But more on that later.
Traci Murphy threw a softball question about gun violence, and Freel of course promised he would support legislation aimed at reducing gun violence.
Kyle Schwab started his question by thanking Freel for his years of service to the party. “I was planning to ask this question in private, but you never returned my phone call,” Schwab said.
“If you can’t round up all 20 people on this call to vote for you, do you have the energy to campaign and win this seat for us?” This was a nod to the efforts Bohm had spent prior to the meeting on reaching out to RD4 members and working to understand their concerns and wishes for the nominee. Freel had not only not invested in similar efforts, but based on Schwab’s failure to get a return phone call, had in fact worked to avoid and ignore members of RD4.
Freel responded, “I have the energy to walk the district and knock on doors. I will have the time also. If your concern is do I have the energy, I promise you I do.” It’s too bad he hadn’t had the energy to speak to Schwab prior to the meeting.
Mark Purpura was up next. He said, “Mr Freel, I’m an LGBTQ advocate and a member of the LGBTQ committee. I think the party platform is pretty good on LGBTQ issues, but I want to know what you’re passionate about .. given all the anti-trans bills going on across the country, and what would you do to proactively protect trans students in Delaware?”
Freel’s response was subpar, to say the least. At least he admitted, “On the city level I had not been very involved in those issues.” I could tell he was clueless and didn’t know how to respond to a question about a topic he never thought about unless the Democrat Party told him to care about it.
My feelings were not assuaged when he name-dropped Senator Sarah McBride, perhaps as the only trans person he knows. “I’m going to take the lead from other individuals that are already in the House and the Senate,” he said.
That concluded Freel’s Q&A session, and we moved on to Bohm’s speech.
The difference between her and Freel was obvious from the start. Her excitement was palpable. She was engaging and I felt an immediate connection to her obvious passion for her community and fellow RD4 constituents.
She opened by agreeing with the party on the topic of representation. “Our community needs a strong Democrat who can hit the ground running,” she said.
She then also shared some personal details of her own life, including her union membership of 20 years, time as a college professor, and her PhD in sociology. She has many years of legislative experience on multiple boards. Her mother was also a union worker, and her father was a Vietnam vet and a writer. “Serving and supporting others was one of our strongest family values, and is one of my values to this day,” Bohm emphasized.
She talked about her experience on the Red Clay School Board building coalitions, quickly responding to constituents, and speaking with students on a regular basis. “Sometimes I have to be relentlessly optimistic on moving issues forward,” she said. Listening to Bohm speak, I was growing more and more excited about the potential for discourse and collaboration she could bring to Dover.
She shared a notable legislative success of hers as well. People in her school district were coming to her regularly asking for more African American materials in the schools’ curriculums. She sought out support and advice, and was able to get HB198 passed, which adds African American materials to school curriculum in all schools in Delaware. She drove the legislation through coalition building, which is a skill she showed and continues to show throughout her time on the Red Clay School Board.
“The skills I learned on the school board are the same skills I would use to pass legislation,” Bohm said. “I bring to this seat a tremendous amount of support from the community.” I was both impressed, and also confused at the insistence of Freel and some RD4 voters that Bohm didn’t have the experience to fill this role. Her experiences sounded both more recent and more relevant than Freel’s real estate license from the 90s or his push to add city-wide surveillance.
She referenced the over 150 signatures of voters and volunteers collected on a petition in just one week, all of whom were ready to support her campaign. She named Sen. Tizzy Lockman, Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, and Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton as people in the current legislature who were excited about the potential opportunity to work with her and had reached out to her unbidden to lend their support.
Bohm’s smile widened as she again emphasized how excited she was to bring new energy to the General Assembly and pass legislation that would improve the lives of RD4 residents. “I think I will be an asset in the General Assembly. We need an energetic Democrat to fight for the policies that will improve our communities.”
On the topic of other legislators, Bohm addressed what was apparently another key concern of the RD4 committee. “I plan to support Democratic incumbents, especially Krista Griffith.” I wondered why the Democratic party was so abjectly terrified of someone running against Griffith. Bohm, to her credit, understood that following The Delaware Way code was of utmost importance. In a later answer, Bohm shared how strongly she felt about honoring this code and the lengths she went to to assure RD4 committee members that she posed no threat to Griffith’s incumbency. But it wouldn’t do her any good.
Bohm continued speaking about issues, sharing how she is excited about paid family and medical leave, voting rights, gun safety legislation, and many others.
The key legislation she wants to support is universal pre-k in the state, she said. Constituents in the 4th RD have regularly talked to her about increasing public safety, decreasing crime, and increasing quality of schooling, she elaborated. She leaned forward animatedly as she shared she’s already been talking about this legislation with Mayor Purzycki because she is so excited about it. She pointed out that police chiefs are very much in favor of pre-k as a crime-fighting strategy.
In stark contrast to Freel’s mood of being a token Democrat in a seat that needs to be filled, Bohm said, “This is not just a place-holder seat, it’s an opportunity to do a lot of good work down in Dover.”
I couldn’t believe that the RD4 was about to vote against this dynamic, qualified, skilled woman because they thought Freel was the safe candidate. Was it really about that, I wondered? Or were they scared of giving an obviously qualified woman of color too much power?
Bill Cortes started off the Q&A session for Bohm by asking, “If elected, would you be resigning from the Red Clay School Board?”
Bohm answered, “I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about, and talking to people about [this]. I’ve talked to legislators, board members, and the Department of Elections.” She talked a bit more about the sincere consideration she’d put into this topic, and then concluded, “I would definitely work with the party and the 4th RD to come up with the best decision in the best interest of the party.”
I thought that was a great answer, since the mood of the committee up to this point was doing whatever the Democratic Party wanted to be done. I would later be proved wrong.
Susan Dods was up next. She said she was “very interested in HB 160, the end of life bill.” She wanted to know what Bohm would do about it, since the bill seemed to have disappeared from public discourse. “I’m sort of disillusioned with the General Assembly in the House. Why do they just bury bills, and what would you do about it?”
Bohm said the end of life options bill was “very near and dear to my heart.” She shared a personal story about her husband caring for his father as he slowly lost his battle against cancer, and how painful of an experience that was for her husband to see his father in that much pain. “I would really go down there and support bills that I thought were very very important,” Bohm said. She shared how she had to whip votes at the last minute in her work on the school board, and promised she would extend that same effort in Dover. “I have the energy to do all-nighters and talk to constituents,” she said, as she shared how she was excited to collaborate with other legislators and work to pass important legislation.
Traci Murphy vocalized a motion to extend the Q&A by 10 minutes, and then asked Bohm what her biggest priorities are.
Bohm quickly responded, saying gun legislation was paramount. She shared how her 19 year old son has buried more of his friends than her and her husband combined. “I’ve fed [those friends]. I’ve walked with them,” she said as she shared the heartbreak of losing loved ones to gun violence and insisted we need both short-term and long-term solutions.
She offered permit to purchase as a short term solution, bringing up the evidence we see in New Jersey where permit to purchase has brought a reduction in both gun violence and gun trafficking. She also wants to approach gun violence through a “public health lens.” She mentioned a few reports and commission plans we can look at, and then brought it back to how impactful universal pre-k is on issues such as gun violence specifically and violence in general.
“We have the theory and we have the plan, now we have to have the action and pass the policy,” Bohm concluded.
Marshall broke in to share that there was less than one minute left in Bohm’s Q&A session, so they had time for a quick question. Marshall spent about 20 seconds of Bohm’s final minute repeating this information. Was Marshall trying to waste Bohm’s time on purpose, I wondered? She hadn’t given Freel a final minute count.
Kevin O’Brien volunteered to ask a quick question, but ended up just making a statement instead. He started his question off by complementing both individuals. “I think you’re both terrific candidates,” he said. Then he pivoted to clearly indicating who he was going to vote for and why. “I’m concerned about name recognition,” he said. “Bud Freel is a known quantity that many people will vote for, and we keep the seat. I’m concerned about a new face who is a fabulous addition to our party – “ and then he was cut off by the timer expiring. Marshall did not give Bohm time to respond, in spite of O’Brien consuming the rest of Bohm’s allotted time.
So Bohm was not allowed to point out that she in fact has fantastic name recognition in the district where she is a currently elected school board member. She was not allowed to share examples of her commitment to knocking on doors of RD4 members and forming personal relationships with her constituents.
Marshall then asked for a motion to extend the session by 15 minutes. Lippy motioned. Mary Dugan asked if it could be an even number so each candidate got an even amount of time. Staff Member Fulton said it should be 15 minutes open-ended, so anyone asking the question can direct to whichever candidate they want. Lippy amended his motion to support Fulton’s suggestion. Marshall asked Lynn Winkler to second it. Winkler said no. Jack Polidori asked if they could alternate from one candidate to another rather than completely open ended.
Marshall agreed and said that the revised motion would be to extend the session by 15 minutes for Q&A to both candidates with questions directed on an alternating basis to each candidate, and asked for a motion. Lippy made that motion, and Polidori seconded.
Marshall stated questions would be limited to 30 seconds.
Marshall said that since Bohm had just finished – which was in fact false because Bohm hadn’t actually been allowed to answer the non-question – that Freel would go first. She then asked if Winkler had a question for Bud, and Winkler said no. Marshall then asked Lippy if he had a question.
Lippy asked if Freel would support the bill to reform the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, SB149, to pass out of the House without any amendments. Freel asked if he meant SB3. Lippy clarified that no, he meant SB149. Freel said yes he would support SB149 to the floor, and then support it to pass the House with no amendments, and that he has spoken to the sponsor as well.
A member repeated a previous question for Bohm, asking again if she would resign from the school board. Bohm again emphasized she’d do whatever the Democratic Party thought was best. (I could not figure out why this is a bad answer in a room full of staunch Democrats.)
Susan Dods came next with a question for Freel. “Bud,” she said, “I wanted to ask you, in this eight month remainder of the term, what pieces of legislation would you be working for passage of? … Which things would you really push to move?”
Freel listed off the Family and Medical Leave Act, SB149, voting rights, legalization of marijuana, and also offered to help “make the playing field a little more even” between tenants and landlords.
It was time for a question for Bohm next, and Mark Purpura asked, “Why should it be important for the Democratic Party that we have people of color represent us in Dover, and how would your voice be an important impact to that dynamic?”
Bohm reiterated again how she was raised in a working class family, in a primarily African American neighborhood, and she is a woman, and a woman of color. “All of those identities are embodied in me,” she said. She referenced an article that shared how over 50% of Delaware voters were women, but only ~20% of legislators are women. With regard to race, less than 8% of General Assembly members are women of color. “So the best service I can do to the Democratic Party as a woman, as a woman of color, is to represent [them],” she said. “I bring a constituency and a voice that people haven’t heard and that haven’t been included at that table.”
Bohm shared how her mother is from India, and pointed out, “I don’t believe we’ve had anyone of South Asian descent in Dover.” She maintained that people should be represented in Dover, and she joined the Democratic Party because she saw the party striving to represent the needs and beliefs of the constituents.
For the next question, Timothy Boyle addressed both candidates, asking if they would support the other candidate should they lose the nomination.
Both candidates said yes. Bohm added, “I actually called Bud because Bud and I live close to each other and I see him on my walks all the time.” She laughingly shared, “He declined my offer [to drop out of the race and support me],” and reiterated that the Highlands neighborhood is a close knit community, and she’d be happy to knock doors with Freel.
Winkler came next with a third pass at the school board question. “She didn’t answer the question,” Winkler accused, and asked Bohm again if she would step down.
“Yes, if the Democratic Party thought it was in the best interests, yes I would step down,” Bohm repeated.
“I don’t care about the Democratic Party,” Winkler insisted. “What would you do?”
I again found this odd, that supposed party loyalists would be so opposed to a candidate taking the advice of the party. But Bohm handled the question expertly, using her years of experience handling confrontational questions.
Bohm explained the facts of the matter. “The General Assembly doesn’t gavel in on Wednesdays, and school board meetings are once a month at 6pm on Wednesdays.” She maintained that if the party didn’t see a conflict, she also did not see a conflict. However, if the party thought there was a conflict she “would definitely resign from the position. I love service and I love the school board work that I do, but this is obviously a much bigger position.”
Bill Cortes, seemingly also not happy with Bohm’s answer to the school board question that she would follow the Democratic Party’s wishes, added in the Zoom Chat, “Even a part time legislature does vote on school funding, and a member of a Board of Education would have a conflict of interest on any legislative action to provide funding for a school district…”
William Montgomery, who went by Bill, came next in the verbal Q&A to harp on another of the hot topics of the evening. He addressed both candidates, “Both of you live in the Highlands. You’ve both told me you’ll support Krista Griffith. I wonder if you’d…make that pledge.”
Bohm jumped in to answer first, as it was obvious that this was a large concern of the RD4 committee, given Freel’s emphasis that he had already previously retired and planned to go back to retirement after this eight-month term.
Bohm shared how she had called Krista Griffith first thing when she decided to pursue nomination, and pledged her endorsement and support of Krista in future elections and promised she would not run against her in future elections. She then sent her an email to give a written pledge, which was then shared with Democratic party leadership, including Marshall and Caudle who were presiding over the meeting.
Freel did not have to work as hard to convince the RD4 committee that he was not a threat to Griffith, responding only with, “I will be helping her on her campaign in 2022.”
None of this mattered, it turned out. The RD4 voters either didn’t believe Bohm, or didn’t care and were just looking for another excuse to not let her go to Dover and do good work.
Marshall then asked for motion to adjourn to the closed voting executive session, which was duly made and seconded.
Polidori tried to share information to the committee, but Marshall stopped him and said to wait until the closed executive session.
Fulton, the staff person at the meeting, then asked people who were not voting members to leave the meeting. About an hour later, we were allowed back in the Zoom, after voting concluded. In a surprise to no one, they announced that Bud Freel had secured the nomination.
“We have a good candidate that will get us over the line in March the 5th,” Marshall said.
Freel gave his victory speech, saying, “I appreciate your support. I’m going to need your help, as you know, so we can maintain this seat as a Democratic representative.” He then thanked people for their participation in this process. Sham that it was.
Bohm was wonderfully gracious and extended heartfelt congratulations to Freel, and repeated her promise to help him in his election campaign.
I am devastated that the party would force a woman of color to lend her energy and experience to prop up a retired white man. Bohm is beyond gracious, and was sincerely supportive and encouraging of Freel. I don’t doubt that she’ll live up to her word. None of mostly-white voters of the RD4 were willing to trust her, though. They didn’t think she was safe, as they insisted over and over again that this was a driving reason they preferred to go with Freel for the nomination.
Caudle jumped in to say, “We know that there have been strong feelings for all of these candidates. But now it is vital that we come together.” She closed by asking for volunteers.
If she had read the petition that I signed saying I was extremely passionate about volunteering for a potential Bohm campaign, she should know that I have precisely zero interest in fighting to get yet another tired, retired, white man elected in the place of a woman of color. In the words of Lynn Winkler, “I don’t care about the Democratic Party.” I care about people who have a passion for uplifting their communities. That’s who I will put my energy and my money behind.
Freel insisted he has the energy to run this campaign, so he can do so, without the support of people like me.
I still consider myself new to this state, having just moved here in June of 2020. But injustice is the same everywhere, and I am very familiar with systems like The Delaware Way. I am very familiar with people in power grasping desperately to keep their power. I know what it looks like when one group holds the keys to the castle above the heads of others, threatening that they’ll never see solutions to their problems unless they sit quietly in their place and only come to the table when called upon.
Ironically, the front page for deldems.org has a picture of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They proudly claim “Delaware’s Joe Biden,” but don’t mention Harris’s name at all. The same contrast between Bud Freel and Adriana Bohm did not escape me. The white man was elevated, and the woman of color was pushed down.
How dare the Democratic Party claim they support equality and equity and justice, and then refuse to trust the word of a woman of color? How dare they insist that they want to make more room for Black women and women of color at the table, and then when they have an experienced, qualified, passionate, energetic woman of color who is over-the-moon excited to make a difference in this state, they force her into a subservient status? They back her into a corner and insist that she spend her valuable time knocking on doors for someone who is supposed to win easily off of name recognition. Why do they need her help? They reiterate that she doesn’t have what it takes to win in RD4. Let Bud Freel do it by himself. It sounds like he doesn’t need to do any work, which is why they like him. And you know what? He won’t let them down.
Editor’s note: Freel, who is now the Democratic Party’s nominee, will face Republican candidate Ted Kittila and possibly other candidates in a special election on March 5 to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Gerald Brady, who resigned.