Delaware auditor who resigned after 2022 corruption conviction seeks a political comeback

Kathy McGuiness left office in disgrace, but she’s paid her debt to society. Her candidacy for state representative has the backing of a former House speaker.

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Kathy McGuiness speaking with people

Former Delaware auditor Kathy McGuiness. (Office of Auditor/Twitter)

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When a jury found former Delaware state auditor Kathy McGuiness guilty of corruption in office nearly two years ago, it appeared her once-promising political career was over.

McGuiness, a pharmacist and business owner, had been seen as a potential successor to Gov. John Carney after her election in 2018. She tried to keep her post after her 2022 conviction for conflict of interest and official misconduct but was trounced in the Democratic primary. She resigned that October as Carney was poised to remove her from office.

But this February, the Delaware Supreme Court vacated her official misconduct conviction, leaving only the misdemeanor crime of conflict of interest on her record. A jury had acquitted her of felony theft and witness tampering, and the trial judge later threw out her conviction for illegally structuring a contract for a campaign consultant.

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Her court case is now closed, as Attorney General Kathy Jennings decided not to retry her on the official misconduct charge. “Delawareans moved on almost two years ago,’’ said Mat Marshall, spokesperson for Jennings. “We have too.”

Now McGuiness is mounting a comeback.

The only statewide elected official ever prosecuted while in office is now a candidate for state representative. She’s seeking the Rehoboth Beach–area seat being vacated by former House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, her longtime friend and political ally.

Schwartzkopf has endorsed her and told WHYY News her lone remaining conviction for hiring her daughter and letting her work remotely while at college in South Carolina was a bogus charge in a state rife with political nepotism.

Pete Schwartzkopf and Kathy McGuiness
Former House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf is endorsing McGuiness for the House seat he has held since 2002. (Courtesy of Kathy McGuiness)

McGuiness, who was an elected Rehoboth Beach town commissioner for 16 years before being elected state auditor in 2018, won’t just waltz into the House seat in the heavily Democratic district, however.

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She’s in a three-way primary race with Claire Snyder-Hall, former head of the government accountability group Common Cause, and Marty Rendon, a former congressional aide who sits on the Delaware Human and Civil Rights Commission.

Kathy McGuiness, Marty Rendon and Claire Snyder-Hall
From left to right, convicted former state auditor Kathy McGuiness (left) is in a three-way primary with former congressional aide Marty Rendon and former Common Cause director Claire Snyder-Hall. (Courtesy of the candidates)

The primary election is Sept. 10. No Republican has yet filed for the seat.

2 primary foes ‘surprised’ McGuiness is running for office

Both of McGuiness’ primary opponents suspect voters will be skeptical of a convicted politician who resigned in disgrace.

“I have to say I’m a little surprised that Kathy McGuiness decided to run,’’ Snyder-Hall said. “I mean, we’ll see in September what voters think, but I’m betting they want an ethical and effective leader who was well-respected in Dover.”

Rendon said the bottom line is that a candidate with a conviction related to her elected office is on the ballot.

“I’m not trying to go negative on anybody, but people are really surprised she’s running again,’’ Rendon said. “That’s the reaction I get, but I’m trying to keep the focus off of her and just talk about the kinds of things that the people want to have done for them in Dover.”

McGuiness announced her candidacy Saturday in Dewey Beach, with Schwartzkopf offering supportive remarks. In an interview this week, she told WHYY News she paid her $10,000 fine and performed 500 hours of community service at the Food Bank, a soup kitchen and other venues during her year on probation.

Echoing Schwartzkopf’s sentiment that her conviction was for a “low-level misdemeanor” for hiring her daughter, McGuiness said she’s moving forward.

“I believe I’m the best person for this position,’’ she said. “I’m ready to hit the ground running and help the people of this district,” which also includes Dewey Beach and increasingly populated inland areas.

“I believe they need a strong voice, someone that knows the area, knows the people, has seen the change, seen the growth. We’re going to have growth, but we must direct it, and it has to be responsible,” she said. “I believe we need someone who is there to help assist and do it in incremental phases in a positive manner.”

She’s asking voters not to hold her legal troubles against her at the ballot box.

“I would hope that people can look at my record of decades of accomplishments and see all the good things that I’ve been involved in and helped with throughout the years, and know that I have the drive and the energy to serve my community.”

Schwartzkopf, who has represented the district for 22 years and was speaker from 2013 until stepping down last year, said residents can feel comfortable contacting McGuiness on any matter.

“She was raised here. She knows the district. She knows the people in the district and she knows what the issues are in the district,’’ Schwartzkopf said. “She’s going to try to help you with whatever issue you have.”

Snyder-Hall and Rendon also said that if elected, residents can count on them to address their concerns.

Snyder-Hall, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2014 against incumbent Republican Ernie Lopez, said she’s looking forward to being the first woman to represent the Rehoboth area.

“We’re facing a series of crises, with a shortage of health care providers, workforce housing needs, public schools bursting at the seams and climate resiliency needed,” Snyder-Hall said. “And so I just felt like I was doing very good work with Common Cause for the democracy agenda, but I can do that work and also work on other pressing problems in the General Assembly.”

First-time candidate Rendon mentioned population growth and services for seniors as major challenges for coastal Delaware.

“Overdevelopment is a big issue. The land use is an issue. The traffic here is an issue, obviously, coupled with environmental concerns. We’re worried about climate change, the effect of the oceans rising, environmental degradation of our inland waterways,’’ Rendon said.

“And then of course with an aging population here in the area, we’re concerned about health care, having good medical facilities here.”

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