In an upcoming special election for the Delaware House of Representatives, Christiana residents will choose between a 29-year-old Democrat who says he’ll bring fresh ideas to the table and a Republican who says she has the life experience to connect to her constituents.
Democrat David Bentz and Republican Eileen O’Shaughnessy-Coleman are running for representative in Delaware’s 18th district in a special election on Sept. 12 to fill the seat of former Democratic Rep. Michael Barbieri.
Barbieri stepped down Aug. 3 to become the new director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health in the Department of Health and Social Services.
The winner of the special election will serve through the general election in November, 2016.
Background and Experience
Bentz, 29, is currently a legislative aide who lives in Bear with his wife. He said as legislative aide he works as a “point person” for the district, helping constituents connect with legislators and services.
While on the job, he’s also able to participate in policy development with several legislators, Bentz said.
“I already have seen the job up close and seen what it takes to be successful at it,” he said.
“I have a strong passion for public service, I’ve been fortunate to serve the district for the past couple years as a legislative aid in the House of Representatives, and I want to be able to do that in a more direct capacity as a member of the House of Representatives.”
Bentz said he doesn’t believe his relatively young age is a hindrance to his campaign. He said voters say it’s refreshing to see a young person running for office.
“I think a strong legislature resembles its citizenry, and young people are part of the citizenry, and we need people from all different backgrounds and all different points of view and experiences in there,” Bentz said.
Eileen O’Shaughnessy-Coleman has lived in the area 24 years with her husband of 29 years. She has raised five children, including two with special needs.
O’Shaughnessy-Coleman previously had a non-profit organization that helped families and children impacted by autism.
She said she believes her life experiences qualify her for the position. O’Shaughnessy-Coleman said at one time she and her husband lost their home, her husband was out of work for more than a year and she took a waitressing job at Michael’s restaurant in Newark to support the family.
“We understand what people go through when they’re struggling just to take care of themselves and their families and their children,” she said.
“Luckily we came out the other end, and I want to be voice for people that are going through things we went through so they can come out the other side and thrive.”
If elected, O’Shaughnessy-Coleman will be a part of the minority party in Delaware. She said it’s important for Republicans to work with Democrats in order to be successful.
“You have to swallow your pride, you have to go about your life with humility so you’re not going into situations thinking this person is wrong,” O’Shaughnessy-Coleman said.
Contributions and Endorsements
According to campaign finance reports, Bentz has received about $13,375 in campaign contributions.
Some of the funding was received from Democratic Representatives like Paul Baumbach, Debra Heffernan, Bryan Townsend, Peter Schwarzkopf, James Johnson, Bryon Short, Helene Keeley, Melanie George Smith and even Barbieri himself. Other donations were received from non-political residents.
Bentz has received several endorsements from organizations like the Delaware State Education Association and Delaware Young Democrats.
“We are confident that the committee endorsed a strong candidate who, if elected, will be a tireless advocate for his constituents,” said Betsy Maron, New Castle County Chair for Delaware Young Democrats in a statement during the announcement of the endorsement.
Gov. Jack Markell also stated his support for Bentz.
“The Governor supports David Bentz because he has worked on behalf of the residents of the 18th and knows what matters to them—good middle-class jobs, strong schools and a responsive and an effective government that works for them,” Markell’s press secretary Kelly Bachman said in a statement.
“David has a record of serving his community and will be ready on day one to do that effectively in Dover.”
Shaughnessy-Coleman has received about $23,611, according to campaign finance reports. Some of the funding has come from Republican Representatives like Joseph Miro, Deborah Hudson, Lyndon Yearick, Daniel Short, David Wilson, Jeffrey Spiegelman and Timothy Dukes. Other funding has come from political groups and other citizens.
Shaughnessy-Coleman has received several endorsements from Republican organizations, including the Delaware Federation of Republican Women and the Young Republicans Delaware Chapter.
“She’s local, she’s lived in the area for 25 years, she’s a mother, she’s a wife, she has children with special needs, so she’s dealt with education, and she’s just a great person,” said Paula Manolakos, president of the Delaware Federation of Republican Women.
“She volunteers her time, and I think she would be a great person for the position.”
Former Governor Mike Castle said O’Shaughnessy-Coleman is experienced in helping neighborhood issues, and even interned while he was in office.
“I met with her and she obviously has an interest in helping the people of the community,” he said.
“I was impressed she would not just be a good but an outstanding State Representative, and I believe she’s very fair, she’s not an inflexible person as far as the ideology of one party or the other.”
The Candidate’s Platforms
Bentz said the biggest issue facing his constituents is the continual decline of the middle class. He said he doesn’t believe government is doing enough to foster an environment that uplifts this segment of the population.
Bentz said uplifting the middle class could be done in several ways, including improving education, and investing in road infrastructure.
He said more funding should be directed to classrooms as opposed to administration in order to benefit students.
“We need to do a better job investing in education so children in working class families are getting off on the right foot, getting a good education so they can get good jobs after they graduate,” Bentz said.
“I think right now the state’s focus is far too much on broad policy coming from the Department of Education and not enough focus on the classroom. We need to make sure our primary goal is to give teachers the resources they need—they’re the ones on the ground, they understand the good and bad things we’re doing in the classroom”
He said investing in road improvements has multiple benefits for the local economy and for residents who drive the roads. Bentz said the intersection of Harmony Road and 273 in Wilmington, and the exit from I95 to 273, are prone to accidents and he would try to get funding to fix those roads.
“It puts people to work, it makes the area more attractive to businesses that want to come in and it improves public safety,” Bentz said.
O’Shaughnessy-Coleman said one of the biggest issues in education is excessive testing. Markell recently vetoed a bill that would allow students to opt-out of state-wide testing.
“(People) want their kids to go to school the way they went to school—with a passion to learn and not getting tested excessively,” she said.
“There has to be an assessment, otherwise how do we determine who is growing? But do we need what we have now? I’m not hearing many people saying they’re all in for the opt-out, but they’re saying something needs to change.”
O’Shaughnessy-Coleman also said there should be more incentives for teachers to remain in their jobs, because talented teachers are taking high-paying administrative positions instead.
“There’s no incentive for teachers to stay in the classroom,” she said. “They go into teaching because they want to teach and they feel their hands are tied.”
O’Shaughnessy-Coleman said she also would like to bring in new businesses to Delaware by offering more incentives.
“We need to get back to asking the businesses what they’re looking for,” she said. “’What will drive you to Delaware?’ ‘What is keeping you away from Delaware?’ We need to ask those questions.”
On the Campaign
As part of his campaign, Bentz said he’s knocked on doors to introduce himself to voters and listen to their concerns.
“You learn a lot, you get to meet a lot of good people and you get a sense as to what everyone is concerned about,” he said.
“It’s been very beneficial to me if I’m able to win because I’m going in with a greater understanding of the kind of representative they want me to be and the issues they want me to address.”
O’Shaughnessy-Coleman also said she has been door-knocking every night as part of her campaign strategy. She said she enjoys meeting new people, and has received a lot of support from neighbors.
“You never know who’s going to answer the door. You don’t know who’s going to not answer the door,” O’Shaughnessy-Coleman said.
“You knock and start to walk away and someone starts running. That’s really nice, someone’s chasing me down the street, and ‘Would you mind answering one more question?’ That’s great—it means people are interested, it means they know about the special election and it shows pride in their opportunity to vote.”