Gov. Jack Markell (D)
Elected: 2008, term expires Jan. 2013, 1st term.
Born: Nov. 26, 1960, Newark .
Education: Brown U., B.A. 1981; U. of Chicago, M.B.A. 1985.
Family: Married (Carla); 2 children.
Elected office: DE treas., 1999-2008.
Professional Career: Officer, First Natl. Bank Chicago, 1982-86; Assoc., McKinsey & Co., Inc., 1986-1988; Sr. v.p., Nextel, 1989-95; V.P., Comcast, 1996-1998.
Jack Markell is the new Democratic governor of Delaware. The state’s first Jewish governor, he was elected after upsetting establishment-backed Lt. Gov. John Carney in the Democratic primary in 2008.
|Jack Markell (D)||266,861||(68%)|
|William Lee (R)||126,662||(32%)|
|Jack Markell (D)||37,849||(51%)|
|John Carney (D)||36,112||(49%)|
Markell (mar-KEL) was raised in a split-level house in Newark, Del., the youngest of three children. His father was a professor at the University of Delaware and his mother was a state social worker. Growing up, Markell came to love Delaware’s small-town familiarity; he went to kindergarten with his future wife, Carla. His first foray into politics came at age 17, when he was elected president of his high school’s student body. The same year, he accompanied his father on an overseas sabbatical, living for half a year in the United Kingdom and for half a year in New Zealand. After graduating from Brown University and earning an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, Markell set off on a 16-year career in business. He worked briefly in banking and consulting before joining a telecommunications startup called Fleet Call in 1989. Over the next decade, Fleet Call grew into a major cellular service provider and rebranded itself as Nextel, a name Markell coined. He struck up a lasting friendship there with one of Fleet Call’s early investors, Mark Warner, the future Democratic governor of Virginia. Following a brief stint as an executive for cable service provider Comcast, Markell defeated Republican state Treasurer Janet Rzewnicki in 1998 in his first campaign for public office.
Markell brought his business acumen to the treasurer’s office and played an influential role in shaping the state’s finances. Shortly after taking office, he sought to cut state spending by consolidating purchases across agencies. He helped pioneer a program that provides every state employee a detailed health assessment in an effort to provide better care while reducing the state’s costs. Markell also brought a didactic touch to his work in the state capital. Believing that most citizens knew relatively little about monetary issues, he sought to improve financial literacy in the state where most of the nation’s credit cards are issued. Together with community and church leaders in Wilmington, he led a campaign to encourage eligible families to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit. He created the Delaware Money School, which offers free classes on a range of personal financial topics. He was re-elected by wide margins in 2002 and 2006.
Markell was a natural to run for governor in 2008, when Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner was barred by term limits from running again. But there was someone of equal political stature ahead of him in line. Carney, the lieutenant governor, was the favorite to succeed her. In a small state where most elected officials are on personal terms with one another, most office seekers defer to the wishes of party elders, who hoped to avoid the first contested Democratic gubernatorial primary since 1992. They urged Markell to run for lieutenant governor instead. But he was steadfast about wanting the top job. Deprived of his anticipated coronation, Carney lined up support from much of the party establishment, including Minner, state legislators, and unions. But Markell campaigned tirelessly across the state and raised more than $4 million, including $725,000 of his own money, a record fundraising haul in a Delaware governor’s race. Carney could not keep pace with Markell’s fundraising, but enjoyed the backing of the state party’s executive committee, which ran ads against Markell. As Minner’s popularity flagged after two terms in office, Markell subtly distanced himself from her by campaigning on a theme of change, and in June released a detailed compendium of policy proposals called the “Blueprint for a Better Delaware.” Still, Markell’s victory in the September primary was nothing short of a stunner. He took 51% of the vote to Carney’s 49%, a margin of about 1,700 votes.
The party rallied behind Markell for the general election, where he faced Republican Bill Lee, a retired Superior Court judge making his third straight run for the office. Jeff Brown, a bartender and the founder of the Blue Enigma Party, also qualified for the ballot but never posed a credible threat. On the campaign trail, Markell and Matt Denn, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, touted a plan they claimed would save taxpayers over $100 million while simultaneously balancing a state budget faced with a massive deficit. The 12-page document drew heavily on previous Markell proposals for health care, education, and energy. The Republican Party tried to taint Markell with ads that referenced a 1994 lawsuit alleging that he and other Nextel executives had made false statements to boost the company’s stock price. The executives settled the lawsuit for $27 million without admitting wrongdoing.
In the weeks leading up to the general election, few doubted that Markell would keep the governor’s mansion in Democratic hands. He entered October with a commanding lead in the polls and 10 times as much money as his opponent. During a debate in late October, Lee pushed Markell to pledge not to levy any new taxes in order to fund his proposed programs. Markell refused, but did not appear to suffer negative fallout. He defeated Lee 68%-32%.
Markell took office at a time of deepening economic uncertainty for the state, whose reliance on the financial services industry for its tax revenue left it disproportionately affected by volatility on Wall Street. He pledged to create 25,000 jobs during his first term, a promise that will not be easy to keep. In October 2008, Chrysler announced that it would close its plant in Newark. The plant is a major area employer. Early in his term, Markell toured the state, engaging citizens in discussions on how to reduce a budget deficit projected to reach $606 million by 2010. Markell took initial steps to reduce state spending, including ending state-funded travel, reducing state-vehicle usage by 20%, and introducing a new energy usage policy for state buildings. On other issues, Markell’s election will mean a change from the past. He supports the construction of a wind farm off the Delaware coast, which Minner had opposed.