Jack Markell's Politics, Personality, and His Future In (or Out of) Office
Heavy hitter: Jack Markell racked up early victories as governor, but he’s taken some tough shots of late. Could the likable leader have his sights set on an even bigger prize?
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All other photos courtesy of Markell Administration
It was one of those photo-op events that dot Jack Markell’s schedule. Wearing sneakers, shorts and a T-shirt, the governor was playing his favorite sport, table tennis, for charity in the lobby of the Barclaycard US building on Wilmington’s Riverfront.
Markell mastered table tennis in the basement of his childhood home in Newark, besting first his father, Dr. William Markell, who taught accounting at UD, and then the family champ, his mother, Leni, a social worker. He went on to win the under-15 Delaware tournament when he was 10, and was “the sixth man on a six-man team” at his alma mater, Brown University.
On this day in mid-March, the 52-year-old chief executive was losing to the Barclay’s champion, but he was having fun and displaying his full repertoire—and not just his forehand smash and backhand topspin. As scores of Barclay employees looked on, some of Markell’s considerable political skills were apparent as well. He was by turns serious—fist-pumping, grunting, occasionally leaving his feet to return a ball—and funny.
When the crowd applauded a point by his opponent, he stopped, smiled and said, “I’ve got armed troopers with me, you know.”
In a sense, he approached the game the way he approaches his job—a job he loves, and takes very seriously, while not taking himself too seriously. After the match he was gracious, pointing out that the champ had stopped using a backspin serve once he realized Markell couldn’t handle it.
It’s this winning combination of traits that makes most Delawareans, including those who disagree with his policies, view their governor as likable, a “good guy.”
At one point during the match, a man in the crowd muttered, “He can only play to his left”—a good-natured suggestion that Markell is a liberal.
That assumption would be inaccurate. Now in his second (and, by law, last) term as governor, the Democrat who once interned for the late Republican Sen. Bill Roth has straddled the line between liberal and conservative while frustrating and irritating extremists on both sides. On the left, he has been a major disappointment to environmentalists and some others. Right-wingers criticize him for being a “gun-grabber” and supporter of gay marriage, among other grievances.