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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Markell’s liberal or conservative tendencies aside, Delaware’s major problem continues to be the weak economy, especially unemployment. In March, the state absorbed two staggering blows. First, the negotiations for Kinder Morgan to take over the Port of Wilmington fell through. Union resistance was the primary reason, and some put much of the blame on Levin, but Markell’s street cred took a hit. Jason Scott of Delaware Liberal blogged: “One cautionary note for the governor: Even those of us who disagree with you on occasion respect your reputation for competence. The port fiasco put a couple of dents in that.”
Two weeks later, AstraZeneca announced it would be laying off 1,200 employees over the next two years, a crippling number in a state where unemployment is already at 32,000. The News Journal recently reported that South Korean poultry producer Allen Harim could add 700 Delaware jobs by November 2014. This would depend on the completion of a deal to buy the former Pinnacle Foods pickle plant and complete a $100 million expansion.
Despite such jolts and criticism from all sides of the political spectrum, Markell remains the happy warrior, listing his major second-term goals: “Continue making sure our schools are the very best possible; investing in workforce development so there’s a strong linkage between skills valued in the marketplace today and skills that will be valued a couple years from now, and skills that are embodied in the people of Delaware; continuing to improve the economic climate, and making sure we can tell the story effectively about all that Delaware has to offer.
“We’re in a global war for jobs,” he says, “which really means we’re in a global war for talent because the jobs are going to go where the talent is, so we need to be a place that is really attractive to talented workers, to entrepreneurs, and the like. And that’s the filter we need to use in many of the decisions we make.”
In all of his decision-making, Markell is supported by his wife, with whom he celebrates 23 years of marriage this month. Carla Markell appears with her husband at many public events, meanwhile pursuing at-risk children issues and encouraging volunteerism. Their daughter, Molly, 20, is at the University of Pennsylvania, and son Michael, 17, attends the Charter School of Wilmington.
The governor has to be one of the few fathers over the age of 50 who can (almost) match their children’s knowledge of social media. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. He’s also proficient with his iPad, using it for work and pleasure. On long plane rides, he might alternate between reading a book and watching downloads of his favorite TV show, “Parks & Recreation.” He became a fan of the sitcom after meeting Aubrey Plaza, a Delawarean who’s in the cast. Markell calls P&R star Amy Poehler “a comedic genius.”
Whatever he may accomplish in his second term, he already has made history: Markell and his probable successor, Matt Denn, are the first Jewish governor-lieutenant-governor team in the country’s history. This fact is noted with some pride in the Jewish community, says Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein of Temple Beth El in Newark, where the mothers of Markell and Denn are members. Becker-Klein suggests that the duo’s ethnic-neutral names are an advantage. “Because neither of them gives off an obvious ethnicity—it’s not Cohen or Goldberg, or something like that—they’re able to practice politics without people assuming things about them,” he says. “It lets people see both of them for who they are, and not just as a Jewish person.”
Who Jack Markell will be beyond his final term as governor of Delaware is a chapter yet to be written. In the meantime, he undoubtedly will continue to roil the waters on both the left and right while forging a legacy marked by hard work, and dedication to the job—leavened with a touch of humor.
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