Political war brewing over Wilmington seat in Delaware Senate

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Delaware Senate candidate Jordan Hines says he will not participate in any events sponsored by the Wilmington Democratic Party, citing concerns about the chairwoman’s support for his primary opponent.

As a result, a planned party-sponsored debate between Hines and fellow Democrat Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman has been canceled, party officials confirmed.

“I’m open to debating my opponent,” Hines said. “But not if it’s hosted by the party because I’m not sure what influence the chairwoman will have, and I question whether the event will be unbiased.”

Cassandra Marshall, who was elected to chair the city party organization last summer, dismissed Hines concerns as naïve.

“My personal support for a candidate is the same kind of thing that goes on across the state,” she said. “Mature candidates and mature campaigns know the difference between what the party is doing and what an individual running the party is doing.”

The conflict between one of Wilmington’s young progressive candidates and its Democratic Party organization has been brewing for months. It finally reached a head following a Facebook exchange last month.

At the heart of the dispute is a $600 campaign contribution – the maximum allowed by law – that Marshall made to Lockman’s campaign in October. 

At the time, Hines had already declared his candidacy. Lockman had formed a campaign committee but was still days away from making a public announcement.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Marshall’s plans, meanwhile, remained a mystery. He finally announced plans to retire last week. Robert Marshall is not related to Cassandra.

“I made the donation because Tizzy is a good friend of mine who was just starting out her campaign,” Marshall said. “I still have voting rights in this city and state that I did not give up by becoming party chair.”

Hines said he felt “shocked and awe but not surprise” when he first became aware of the donation in January. But he still agreed to participate in a party-sponsored debate with Lockman slated for June 11.

The 27-year-old former policy analyst for the Wilmington City Council abruptly withdrew from that appearance just days before the event because of a “personal matter.” He declined to elaborate on Thursday.

His earlier frustration with Marshall’s donation intensified after the Wilmington Democratic Party announced the event’s cancellation on its Facebook page and specifically blamed him by name.

Several online commenters also took issue with the post.

“Was looking forward to this debate and will try to attend when you decide upon a new date,” one person wrote. “But I must say this post seems like an attempt to publicly shame Jordan Hines and bias voters. And that’s not a good look for the Wilmington Democrats.”

The reaction prompted Marshall to pen a 500-word response, acknowledging what she described as a “deeply personal” decision to donate to Lockman’s campaign and “lingering frustration that one candidate chose to withdraw after initially committing.”

She also assured party members that she would recuse herself from “all matters pertaining to the 3rd Senate District primary. The city party has not endorsed any primary candidates to date.

Hines said the public reaction to the party’s post and Marshall’s statements convinced him to separate himself of party-sponsored activities.

“After I saw the public comments, it really raised an eyebrow for me,” he said. “I said, ‘Jordan, you’ve got to watch yourself.'”

He finally let his feelings be known last week when the Wilmington Democratic Party contacted him to reschedule the canceled debate for July 23.

“The new executive team (of the city party) was supposed to be a change from the old guard,” he said. “But sometimes you can forget your intentions. … I just don’t know if I can trust them right now.”

Hines says his beef is not with the Democratic Party as a whole, but the subdivision that represents Wilmington. He also maintained he is not avoiding his primary opponent, noting he and Lockman have appeared together at two community forum events in recent months.

Lockman said she welcomes additional joint appearances.

“I’m surprised and a little disappointed, but I understand his concerns about bias,” she said of Hines’ decision to skip Wilmington Democratic Party events. “At the end of the day, I just want to give our constituents an opportunity to hear us discuss our platforms, whether it’s at a party event or not.”

Marshall, meanwhile, insisted her personal contribution to Lockman’s campaign is not out of the ordinary.

Wilmington Democratic Party Second Vice Chairwoman Pamela Buford-Foster, for instance, contributed $125 to Lockman’s campaign, according to the latest campaign finance data available.

“A lot of committee members are also volunteering and doing work for various campaigns,” she said. “As individuals, we all work to help the candidate we support. And then once the primary is over, we come together as one.”

She also said Hines is free to decide what events he does – and does not – attend.

“I don’t understand a candidate who walks away from events that could get them free media coverage and allow them to present their positions to voters,” she said. “But each candidate has to do what they believe is right for themselves and their campaigns.”

Contact reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, [email protected] or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.

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