- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Some reveling in victory, others reeling in defeat, Delaware politicians gathered at the rural crossroads of Georgetown, Del., on Thursday to bury the hatchet.

In a time-honored tradition, winners and losers assembled in the aftermath of the elections last week for Return Day, a chance to demonstrate good will and unity and put the sometimes harsh rhetoric of campaigning behind them.

Cold temperatures and a steady downpour didn’t deter thousands of people from descending on Georgetown for what is thought to be the only event of its kind in the country.

The event is such an important tradition in Georgetown that testimony in a high-profile shareholder lawsuit in Chancery Court over the size of former Walt Disney Co. president Michael Ovitz’s severance package was canceled for the day.

As usual, the highlights from Thursday included a parade of carriages and convertibles in which winners and losers rode together.

Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner sat perched atop the first carriage, smiling and waving. Her unsuccessful challengers, Republican Bill Lee and Independent-Libertarian Frank Infante, were relegated to the rumble seat of her carriage, facing backward.

The seating arrangement may not have been surprising, given a contentious gubernatorial campaign that featured Republican ads accusing Mrs. Minner of “arrogance and incompetence,” and the governor responding with negative ads of her own.

The campaign wound down on a bizarre note, with Mrs. Minner sporting a bandage on her right hand on Election Day and accusing Mr. Lee of inadvertently injuring her little finger when the two shook hands in a chance encounter the day before.

U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper, both Democrats, eschewed vehicles, choosing to walk the parade route, albeit at a fast clip and shaking only a few hands.

After the parade, local party chairmen symbolically buried a hatchet in a box of beach sand in a show of political good will.

Nobody seems to know exactly when Return Day started, but historical records suggest it may date from the late 18th century.

Some locals say a 1791 law that shifted the county seat inland from the coastal town of Lewes required that all votes be cast in the new county seat. To learn the results, voters would “return” two days later.

Honorary grand marshal Russell McCabe, outreach coordinator for the Delaware Public Archives, thinks the tradition began after separate voting districts were established in the early 19th century and district officials gathered in Georgetown after elections to tally the results.

Whatever its origin, event organizers say the tradition has followed every election in recent memory, except between 1942 and 1952, because of World War II.

• Parrish recovering

Virginia’s oldest delegate has recovered from a health challenge and plans to be back in Richmond for the legislative session when it begins Jan. 12.

Delegate Harry J. Parrish, Manassas Republican, was hospitalized in October for one week but has since recovered, his office said last week. Mr. Parrish had collapsed during a prayer breakfast in Alexandria.

Earlier this year, Mr. Parrish suffered a serious bout of pneumonia.

Mr. Parrish, 82, returned to work immediately upon his release and got back to business.

Mr. Parrish this year was part of a coalition that increased taxes to balance the state budget and fully fund education despite serious pressure from anti-tax Republicans. As chairman of the House Finance Committee, Mr. Parrish authored the final compromise tax package, which increased some taxes and lowered others.

There is some speculation that Mr. Parrish, who has been a member of the legislature for 22 years, will retire in 2005 when all 100 House delegates are up for re-election. Mr. Parrish has said he is still deciding whether to seek another term.

• Voice of approval

Voters of Talbot County, Md., voiced their approval for two referendums on Tuesday.

In a nonbinding straw poll, about three-fourths of the county voters favored switching to an elected school board. Currently, the governor appoints board members based on recommendations from local Republican and Democratic central committees.

Also, about 53 percent of voters supported limiting the size of major retail buildings to 65,000 square feet. The County Council originally imposed a size cap in December, but the referendum was sparked after the Lowe’s home improvement chain wanted to build a much larger store in the county.

People “don’t want to be steamrolled by outside interests even though those interests are dumping tons of money into Talbot County,” council President Philip Carey Foster said.

• Oh, Christmas tree

The tree that will decorate the U.S. Capitol lawn for the holidays was cut in Highland County, Va., last week.

Before it gets to Washington, though, the 70-foot red spruce is scheduled for a 33-stop tour of Virginia.

This will be the Capitol’s first Christmas tree from Virginia. The Capitol’s landscape architect chose the tree from a Highland County section of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests, the U.S. Forest Service said.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, will light the tree in a Dec. 9 ceremony. It will be decorated with about 4,500 ornaments provided by Virginia schoolchildren and residents.

Christmas-tree growers in the state will provide an additional 75 trees that will adorn other federal buildings in Washington, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

• Flush for the future

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. broke ground on the first of 66 sewage-treatment plant expansion projects that will be funded through his new “flush tax.”

State officials said the expanded wastewater facility in Easton is intended to handle the town’s growing population. It also is meant to cut by two-thirds the amount of nitrogen pollution flowing from the plant toward the Chesapeake Bay.

The expansion will cost $36 million, financed by a new $30 annual fee for all users of public sewer or private septic systems. The “flush tax” takes effect Jan. 1.

At the Thursday groundbreaking, Mr. Ehrlich said the sewage plant upgrades are only part of a comprehensive approach to turning the Bay around.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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