By KEN MAMMARELLA Special to Delaware Business Times Rehoboth Beach, Trap Pond State Park and Nemours Estate star in a new virtual tour promoting Delaware to out-of-state residents. The three-minute […]
[caption id="attachment_211447" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Gov. Pierre S. "Pete" du Pont IV, candidate for 1988 Republican presidential nomination, speaking at the convention. Du Pont died May 8 at age 86 after a long illness. He was remembered as one of Delaware's great leaders.| PHOTO BY WILLIAM FOLEY/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION VIA GETTY IMAGES[/caption]
WILMINGTON – For those who knew him best, former Gov. Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV is without comparison when it comes to impact on the state of Delaware.One of the last Republicans to hold the governor’s mansion, du Pont, who died May 8 at age 86 after a long illness, left a legacy that many governors would be proud to have a piece of and he did it by bridging political divides.Du Pont won the governorship after three terms as Delaware’s lone congressman, inheriting a state where unemployment tipped 13% and no governor had successfully won re-election in about 20 years. After a rocky start, including a Democrat-led statehouse’s override of the new governor’s budget veto in 1977, du Pont established an era of bipartisan cooperation that today is known as “the Delaware Way.”“He recognized quickly that the path to progress was through collaboration, and he did that, masterfully,” said Bob Perkins, who served in the du Pont administration from 1982-85 including a stint as chief of staff.Many say that “the Delaware Way” was born out of du Pont’s good humor and desire to make personal connections, regardless of the political party across the aisle. Du Pont made inroads with high-ranking Democrats like Robert Gilligan, Lonnie George, Richard Cordrey and Thurman Adams, all of whom would hold their chamber's top seats.Bill Manning, who served in the du Pont administration from 1979-83 including a stint as chief of staff, recalled those relationships at an event in the ‘80s.“Gilligan leaned over to me and said, ‘I don't know where that guy is going to be standing but I always want to be next to him, because it's safe.’ Here's a fierce partisan acknowledging that Pete was someone that they could trust,” he said.Mike Castle, who served as lieutenant governor with du Pont from 1981-85 and succeeded his colleague as governor for two terms, credited that relationship-building with the administration’s biggest achievement.“I think that without those relationships that the Financial Center Development Act probably never would have happened,” he said this week of the landmark 1981 bill that convinced many of the nation’s largest banks to move operations to the First State. “I think that particular act was of vital importance to the state.”With the Supreme Court ruling in 1978 that usury rates where a credit card was issued would apply nationwide, Delaware saw an opportunity to take hold of the new industry. Du Pont lobbied for the bill along with state business titan Irving Shapiro, CEO of his family’s company, DuPont, and Hercules CEO Alex Giacco. The legislation passed easily, and Delaware only faced competition from South Dakota, which made a similar move but couldn’t compete with Delaware’s proximity to New York City, then the finance capital of the country.The 1981 bill had hoped to create a few thousand jobs and attract one or two banks. Today, tens of thousands are employed in financial services here and nearly every major national or regional bank has some presence here.“I thought it had potential, but I can't tell you that I was omniscient enough to really understand the extent of that potential. It took off like a firecracker,” Castle said.Many of the other changes enacted during du Pont’s tenure from 1977 to 1985 continue to this day, including a state constitutional amendment that limits spending to 98% of projected revenue in a fiscal year, saving 2% annually to build a “Rainy Day Fund.” That fiscal conservatism has boosted Delaware’s bond ratings to the highest AAA status, allowing the state to borrow money at the lowest bond rates. It also helped the state weather the downturns of the Dot Com bubble and Great Recession that followed in the decades after he left office.Du Pont also spearheaded the creation of the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC), an independent panel of appointed leaders who analyze the economy and set the parameters for the state’s budget. It removed politics from the equation and allowed a true estimate for the state’s cash flows to be utilized, ending an era of unbalanced budgets and made-up estimates. Du Pont would pass eight consecutive balanced budgets, and the state budget has been balanced ever since.In 1980, du Pont also convinced Delaware’s top business leaders to form their own organization to help voice the concerns of the business community. It became the Delaware Business Roundtable, made up of the state’s top chief executives, and today Perkins serves as its executive director.ChristianaCare President & CEO Dr. Janice Nevin, the chair of the roundtable, called du Pont “a visionary leader who laid the groundwork for a modern, economically competitive Delaware.”In statements, Gov. John Carney remembered du Pont as “a good and decent man who loved Delaware,” while U.S. Sen. Chris Coons said, “his sense of duty and level of dedication were self-evident during a long career in public service.”Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock, whose wide-ranging department deals with many of the companies spurred by du Pont’s legislative achievements, called him “a true icon of Delaware politics.”“He represented much more than his political party or his famous family. He was Delaware and all its complex pieces,” Bullock said. “His brand of politics seems distant in today’s divisive environment but reminds us of a day when partisans weren’t sworn enemies and finding consensus to move forward together was a key measure of success in governing.”Perkins said he believed du Pont’s tenure “will, for many years, be the yardstick by which all governors will be measured.”“He leaves a legacy that both impacts the inner workings of state government and individual Delaware and families. And that's a tremendous legacy to leave behind,” Perkins added.