A gay former judge running for the office of Delaware Insurance Commissioner and a gay Realtor running for the State Senate in a district that includes the popular gay resort town of Rehoboth Beach have a good chance of winning their races, according to political observers.
Attorney and longtime consumer advocate Mitch Crane, who served as an elected judge in Pennsylvania from 1981 to 1987 before moving to Delaware 11 years ago, is challenging incumbent Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart in Delaware’s Sept. 11 Democratic primary.
Crane is the former president of the statewide LGBT rights group Stonewall Democrats of Delaware and is a longtime LGBT rights advocate.
If he wins the primary and goes on to beat his Republican challenger in November, Crane would become one of just a few out gays in the nation to win election to a statewide office.
Meanwhile, Rehoboth Beach Realtor and LGBT rights advocate Andy Staton is considered to have a good shot at winning a state Senate seat in the newly created 6th senatorial district that includes Rehoboth Beach and the adjoining coastal cities of Dewey Beach and Lewes and the nearby city of Milton.
So far no candidate has emerged to challenge Staton in the Democratic primary in September. The filing deadline for a primary challenger is July 10. Should he capture the Democratic nomination, as many political observers in Sussex County, Del., expect, he is considered the odds-on favorite to win the general election in November in a district where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.
Crane and Staton have been endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that helps raise money for LGBT candidates for public office. The two have also been endorsed by Delaware Stonewall Democrats and other political groups and Democratic leaders in the state.
Although the two candidates have strong records on LGBT issues, both have long been involved in a wide range of other issues that supporters say makes them strong, viable candidates.
Staton heads the Staton Group real estate firm that’s affiliated with the Prudential Gallo company in the Rehoboth Beach area. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) appointed Staton to the Delaware Real Estate Commission, where he currently serves as chair. Markel also appointed him to the Delaware Economic Financial Advisory Council, which monitors the state’s revenue and expenditures.
Staton also serves on the board of the Sussex County Family YMCA, the Beebe Hospital Advisory Board and the Camp Rehoboth Leadership Council. Camp Rehoboth is an LGBT community center and non-partisan advocacy group.
“I will focus on job development and health care,” Staton told the Blade. “I will focus on transportation services and I’m focusing on long-term planning for this area to preserve the wonderful community that people have moved into,” he said.
Crane served as regulatory counsel and acting director of consumer services at the Delaware Department of Insurance from March 2007 to January 2011, when he resigned following disagreements over policy issues with Weldin Stewart, who heads the agency.
He had been appointed to the Department of Insurance posts by Matthew Denn, Weldin Stewart’s predecessor as State Insurance Commissioner. Denn left the insurance commissioner’s job in 2009 after being elected lieutenant governor.
“She ran as a consumer advocate, which was good then, and then in a year she turned into an insurance industry advocate,” Crane said. “I told her if things didn’t change I was going to leave, and I eventually left,” he said.
“And then a few months later some people in the party approached me about running. I was at first hesitant but then decided to do it, Crane said.”
Crane’s supporters say his record as a strong advocate for consumers in the field of insurance places him in a strong position in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, even though a Democratic incumbent ordinarily would be expected to win. Crane and his supporters say Weldin Stewart is viewed by political insiders as a weak candidate.
“It is the job of the insurance commissioner to keep insurance premiums as low as possible by recruiting the best insurance companies to do business in our state,” Crane says in a statement on his campaign website.
“The Insurance Commissioner is the only elected official whose job is to protect the insurance consumer. That job is not currently being performed,” he said. “If elected, I will stand up for the consumer as I have done all my professional life.”
Marla Blunt-Carter, a spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Insurance, said Weldin Stewart would not comment on “criticisms presented by political challengers” at this time.
“The Delaware Department of Insurance website, delawareinsurance.gov, highlights the accomplishments of the department under her leadership,” Blunt-Carter told the Blade in an email. “It also demonstrates her commitment to Delaware consumers as well as her role of providing excellence in insurance regulation.”
In a statement released last week, the Victory Fund noted that in addition to being elected as a judge, Crane won election in Pennsylvania in the 1980s and 1990s as a city council member in Chester County, which is considered a Philadelphia suburb.
“Mitch has years of experience as an elected official and a judge,” said Victory Fund spokesperson Denis Dison, who noted that Crane served with distinction as an official at the Delaware Department of Insurance. “He is eminently qualified to serve as the state’s Insurance Commissioner, which would make him one of just a few openly LGBT candidates to be elected to a statewide office anywhere in America.”
Dison said Staton’s “long record of public and community service makes him an excellent candidate for the Delaware Senate,” adding, “If he wins, Andy will become the first openly LGBT candidate elected to the Delaware Legislature, and we are proud to support his campaign.”
Speculation has surfaced that a lesbian Democratic activist in Milton, Del., Marie Mayor, plans to run for a seat in the state House of Representatives. Mayor is co-owner of Lavender Fields Forever, a farm and store specializing in lavender-related products. Mayor didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.