Delaware Law Weekly
AG Candidates Race Tightens
Candidates Strive to Differentiate Selves
By Celia Cohen
Of the Delaware Law Weekly
Carl Schnee looked like he was being squeezed.
Schnee, a Democrat running for attorney general,
was the man in the middle during a candidate's debate hosted by Wilmington
Councilman Norman M. Oliver on Sunday evening, June 16, on Comcast's
leased-access channel 28.
Schnee had the center chair, with M. Jane Brady,
the Republican incumbent, on his right, and Vivian A. Houghton, the Green Party
candidate, on his left. If ever a seating arrangement reflected political
reality, this was it.
Brady touted her background as a prosecuter.
Houghton came on as the anti-establishment candidate. It meant Schnee was
crowded politically to his right and his left, leaving him little room to make
his own stand.
Oliver, the moderator, said as much in an
interview afterwards. "Carl Schnee's got to separate himself,"
The debate on "Community Crossfire: Another
Point of View," a Sunday evening staple in Delaware politics, was the first
joint appearance of the three candidates in what is shaping up as the liveliest
statewide race for 2002.
Brady, first elected in 1994, is seeking her
third term. Schnee, a Wilmington partner with Duane Morris, spent most of
his career at Prickett Jones Elliott Kristol & Schnee and also served two
years as the U. S. attorney for Delaware. Houghton practices in Wilmington
at Houghton Holly and Gray.
It seemed odd the debate went the way that it
did. The format appeared to be a setup for ganging up on Brady, who seemed
likely to be targeted because she is the incumbent in a state that rarely turns
out its officeholders. The political balance also was against her.
Not only is Schnee a Democrat, so is Oliver, although he says he is neutral in
this race, and Houghton is an ex-Democrat now in a party even more to the
Instead, Brady sat calmly for most of the
program--she was 15 minutes late because of another event--and let Schnee and
Houghton wrangle over the Democratic base.
Houghton in her
appropriately colored green jacket made herself a presence, almost always being
the first to answer Oliver's questions and often displaying disbelief or
skepticism when the other candidates were talking. Schnee looking up at
the ceiling and down at his shoes, as if searching for political air wherever he
could find it.
Oliver fired in
litmus-test questions, starting off with the death penalty.
Brady was not there at the
time, but she said in an interview afterward that she supported it--as any
viewer likely would have known because of the high-profile cases her office has
handled. Not only did prosecutors seek the death penalty for Thomas J.
Capano, the disbarred lawyer convicted of murdering Anne Marie Fahey, but they
considered it for Amy S. Grossberg and Brian C. Peterson Jr., teen sweethearts
in a baby-killing case.
Houghton called for a
moratorium on the death penalty. Schnee wriggled between the others'
views, saying, "The death penalty, when administered properly--and I think
that's up to the attorney general to administer it properly--can be an
appropriate part of the law."
Oliver asked about
abortion rights. Houghton responded first. "I believe in a
woman's reproductive rights. A woman has a right to choose," she
Schnee echoed her.
"It's a woman's choice. Period," he said.
Brady tacked toward the
right. "I don't believe abortion should be used as a means of sex
selection or birth control. I do think in the first three months a woman
should have the right to exercise that option, but I think after that there
should be restrictions placed on access to abortion, and I believe parents
should be involved in the decision when children are young juveniles," she
In what was perhaps the
most provocative exchange of the debate, Houghton challenged her opponents'
"You have banks and
you have chemical companies and you have HMOs contributing to your
campaigns. How can we Delawareans expect you to go and prosecute?"
When Oliver asked Houghton
if she was implying that the others could be swayed by political contributions,
Houghton shot back, "I'm not only implying it, I'm saying it."
Schnee called the
accusation "100 percent ridiculous." Brady labeled it
The candidates concluded
with their reasons for why each deserved the voters' support.
Houghton was first
again. "If you want someone that's not afraid to straighten out the
system, if you want somebody that's going to put people first and not large
corporations and moneyed interests before the needs of the people, then I would
like very much for you to vote for Vivian Houghton," she said.
Schnee answered in the
middle. "I think I would bring mature judgement and experience to the
office and be open and accountable. We will put justice first and
politics last, and there's a concern that hasn't been done," he said.
Brady had the last
word. "I'm the only person in this race who's ever walked the
walk--walked with a victom into court, convicted an offender," she
With the debate, the
campaign for attorney general appeared to live up to its billing as the most
spirited race on the statewide ballot.
"I thought we were
going to be a little civil here and really nice, but I think we're moving into
some conversation that's good," Oliver said. "I don't have a
problem with taking the gloves off and letting you guys wing it a little