Somehow, the nation has elected a president from suburban Wilmington. The New York Times asked a writer to explain.
He didn’t do a super job. The Timesman credited Swedes with founding the town in 1683, by which time the actual settlement was nearly 50 years old, and was owned by William Penn, who was English. The Swedes, by the way, have vanished. The Nanticokes, who met them, are still here.
The Times guy said he couldn’t find Delaware’s famous Chancery Court, which settles high-stakes corporate control battles and neighbors’ complaints about hedges, because “there is not even a sign.” There is a sign. Plus, there are not one, but three Chancery Courts in Delaware, and they are all on your smartphone map, smart guy.
He let the governor’s propaganda manager say, unchallenged, that Delaware gets 30% of its revenues from corporate fees. But one-third of those “corporate” revenues are actually “unclaimed” funds that the state enlists a well-connected private firm to extract from the unwary, many bank depositors from far-off countries.
A federal judge may yet curb this piracy. Which is a nightmare for Delaware lawmakers: Will they be forced to start charging a retail sales tax and take down all those “Home of Tax-Free Shopping” signs?
Now I have made my own share of mistakes. But despite what the Times writer claimed, Delaware holds a dramatic place in American history. And I’m afraid it’s not true that the Stars and Stripes first flew in combat at the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Cooch’s Bridge (the Cooches still live next door) — the battle was ferocious, albeit a win for the Brits. But the flag’s presence was a journalist’s fantasy much later.
Still, it’s true that Delaware became the First State to accept the Constitution, after substantially reshaping it: The state’s delegates threatened to rejoin England if the Constitutional Convention scrapped the equality among the states principle of the Articles of Confederation.
Why, Gunning Bedford Jr. demanded of the big-state bullies, should we give up power, for nothing? That wouldn’t help anyone get reelected. And that, readers, is why we have the U.S. Senate. And, thus, the Electoral College. You’re welcome.
Back when I had to show up in the Philadelphia Inquirer newsroom daily, I walked past Bedford’s stone house every morning on the way to the train station. The station could be named for Bedford, a Delaware hero who’s safely dead and past controversy. But the station instead is named for Biden, even though he’s still alive. It’s busy every day, so lawyers from Washington and New York can wrestle in Chancery and be home for dinner. The Bedford house is open two days a year because we don’t advertise. Some of the people from larger states are still sore, and they might come and steal stuff.
(This is also true for one of the nicest Delaware state parks, Flint Woods, 10 minutes from Biden’s house. Movie director M. Night Shyamalan filmed the spooky-trees part of The Village there. But here there really is no sign; you have to know where the access path is and how to safely park on the shoulder of the road. There are hunting stands and archers killing deer there all fall. But it’s a nice walk after Mass, because in Delaware parks there’s no hunting on Sunday. And the Times says we’re “dull.”)
Delaware is mostly Democratic, but it’s also conservative, and not always in the best tradition: It was about the last place in the U.S. to outlaw hanging, the stocks, the whipping post, and slavery.
The state produces four Cs: chemicals, credit cards, corporate charters and chickens. The Times rightly noted the dismantling of the DuPont Co. and the slowing of the credit card banks.
He missed the chemical spinoffs and fintech start-ups. And he doesn’t seem to have talked to any actual du Ponts, who are thick on the ground here, and busy building stuff. He talked with Mayor Mike Purzycki, but doesn’t note the hulking second-term septuagenarian is a former NCAA football star who briefly played in the NFL. Can his mayor say that?
Delaware has cool old sites. But it’s true that boxy-office-tower Wilmington, one-twentieth the size of nearby Philadelphia, lacks the historical, tourist-friendly feel that we expect of old East Coast ports. For that you can walk down an old street called the Strand and up Battery Park in nearby New Castle, the Delaware River-side colonial capital, or travel there from Wilmington by a bike-friendly boardwalk. It’s anti-Williamsburg with some Federalist charm.
New Castle owes its preservation to long years as a lived-in, largely blue-collar place, with enough factories (and the first Amazon warehouse) to get by. But it doesn’t tend to knock down anything old (at one time, the colonial Supreme Court was rented by a waste-treatment company, and atop the Opera House is a remarkable used-book store).
The Times showed the broken sign on the hamburger joint where Biden likes to pose for man-of-the-people photos off I-95, but complains this area lacks indigenous junk food. If the reporter had asked around, he’d have found the Capriotti’s deli’s Bobbie. That sandwich is a much more rational post-Thanksgiving-turkey choice than tetrazzini. He might also have enjoyed a spezzato-on-a-roll, a Wilmington staple of veal and peppers born on Little Italy’s Union Street restaurant row.
A more complete picture would also have included a quick trip past the early Biden tract split-level in Brandywine Hundred, then on to the President-elect’s current compound on preppy Barley Mill Road (no through traffic when he’s home). Check out his pricey retail haunts in nearby Greenville to his church, St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine. There, in this gentrified millworkers’ parish, pastors have been known to call out the President-elect’s departures from Catholic orthodoxy.
Do come back.