People of Influence
Who has clout? There’s a new generation of movers and shakers emerging who are shaping policies and making things happen. Here are 14 to watch.
Bernard Muir is focused today on the same thing he was as an undersized high school freshman hoopster: growth.
As only the fourth athletic director since 1940 at the University of Delaware, Muir is once again standing at the growth chart. He takes control this fall of an athletic program that is experiencing perhaps its highest national profile ever. He thinks it can achieve even greater heights.
“I always had an eye on what was transpiring here,” says Muir, who comes from Georgetown University, which has a highly touted athletic program itself. “If you look at the 23 sports here, I think there’s a heck of a platform to grow some of those programs, and even greater success for the more established ones.”
Between the emergence of Joe Flacco as a bona fide NFL star and basketball phenom Elena Delle Donne suiting up for the Blue Hens this winter, more eyes than ever are fixed on Newark. All Muir has to do is keep ’em glued to Newark.
Muir says his goals fall in line with school president Patrick Harker’s ambitious Path to Prominence, a stratagem that aims for international reknown. That goes for athletics, too. And Muir would love to see continued football meetings between the Blue Hens and the Hornets of Delaware State. “It’s great for the state,“ he says. Regular meetings are “something I hope we can work out.”
Prior to overseeing Georgetown’s Hoyas for two years, Muir worked as a deputy director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame, another sports giant.
So far, Newarkians and Blue Hen fans across the state have welcomed Muir warmly. “People have said, ‘I know you come from Notre Dame and those famous Saturdays in South Bend, but we take our game day Saturdays pretty seriously here, too.’ It sends shivers down my spine just thinking about what those Saturdays will be like.”
Page 2: Peter Schwartzkopf | Politics
As a state trooper, Peter Schwartzkopf often saw people during their worst moments. As the House majority leader, Representative Schwartzkopf remains in the trenches.
Democrats are the majority in the General Assembly, and with their success has come impossibly tough decisions. How tough? How about tax increases and salary reductions? How about championing a bill that gave gays and lesbians in Delaware legal protection from discrimination—a bill that has fizzled several times over a decade?
The Rehoboth Beach legislator sponsored the bill that made sports betting legal in Delaware, and he continues to be a powerful voice for the Del Pointe project, a proposed harness racing track, which, if built in Millsboro, would include a casino, water park, indoor sports complex, paintball park, movie theaters and restaurants. He says the project could create up to 6,000 thousand new jobs. Schwartzkopf faces stiff opposition from casino owners. He was dismissed in May from his post as head of security for the Delaware State Fair, a position he held for the past six years. The fair holds a majority stake in Harrington Raceway and Casino.
“I need to look after my district, my county and my state,” Schwartzkopf says. “Here they are all wrapped into one project.”
Schwartzkopf is perhaps best known to those who follow state politics as a good friend and ally of Governor Jack Markell. A rather unflattering editorial in the Cape Gazette referred to Schwartzkopf as Markell’s waterboy. “The governor has a platform and he cannot introduce legislation,” Schwartzkopf says. “Part of the majority leader’s job is to introduce that legislation. It’s not always popular legislation, but that’s part of the job.”
Page 3: J. Michael Bowman | Science and Technology
J. Michael Bowman
Science and Technology
In 1993 Michael Bowman, then a vice president for DuPont’s advanced materials systems, was handed the keys to the Delaware Technology Park. Essentially a small business park on 40 acres of University of Delaware land, the space had been outfitted with laboratories in hopes that other advanced materials businesses would move in and develop the next big thing. Since then the park has emerged as the state’s unquestioned hub of science and technology.
“A lot of roads go through here,” Bowman says. State government, the University of Delaware and the private sector are all tied into the park, and all are banking on the idea that it will advance the state’s science-based economic growth to keep high-tech jobs and money cycling through Delaware.
The non-profit organization maintains five buildings that contain some of the most innovative start-ups and researchers in the country. The idea is that, by clustering biotech, life science, information tech and advanced materials businesses into once place, where they can easily share ideas and assets, growth will be exponential.
Bluewater Wind is an occupant of the park, as is Quest Pharmaceutical, and Wilmington Pharmatech, three companies on the cutting edge of renewable energy and bioanalysis. In all, 54 companies and 750 professionals work in the park.
The park has become a model for the world.
“We get a lot of international companies who visit and ask, ‘How do you do what you did?’” says Bowman, who serves on the Delaware Science and Technology Council, which oversees research at UD. “This success is really the path to innovation for this country. We haven’t made that turn yet, but we’re always bootstrapping. That is the piece of the puzzle, trying to get this as a national agenda item.”
Page 4: Gerret and Tatiana Copeland | Philanthropy
Gerret and Tatiana Copeland
“Noblesse oblige: To whom much is given, much is expected.”
So sayeth Tatiana Brandt Copeland—accountant, lover of the fine arts, grandniece of Sergei Rachmaninoff and, along with her husband, Gerret van S. Copeland, one of the best known philanthropists in the state.
The list of organizations the Copelands contribute time or money to reads like a who’s who of Delaware non-profits: Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Humane Society, The Grand Opera House, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Brandywine Conservancy and many, many more.
Last year the Copelands made a $2.5 million gift to Christiana Care’s Center for Heart and Vascular Health in response to Gerret’s successful bypass surgery in 2007. Mrs. Copeland has dedicated so much to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation, the crew carved a life-sized likeness of her into the ship’s bow.
As the Copelands go, so goes the groups they support, in many cases. Last year the Copelands launched Arts for Delaware’s Future, an ambitious fundraising campaign between the Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Symphony, Delaware Theatre Company, Opera Delaware and The Grand. Together they hope to raise $12 million in three years. The Copelands each pledged $1 million.
“This is the quality of life for our whole state,” Tatiana Copeland says. “In the old days, it used to be the du Pont family, then the DuPont Company, then MBNA. There was always someone to fill the trough. That’s disappearing. And the groups still have their level of need. People grow, they don’t shrink. That’s been very tough. I’d say the demand has been increasing steadily.”
Page 5: Linda Ammons | Law
As an associate dean at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Ohio, Linda Ammons recognized a unique job situation developing 400 miles southeast. She knew Delaware’s reputation as a corporate leader, and she’d heard of its bustling healthcare industry. Widener University School of Law, which needed a new dean, happened to have the nationally recognized Institute of Delaware Corporate and Business Law and a renowned Health Law Institute.
“One of the many reasons I selected Widener,” Ammons says, “was the uniqueness of that situation and those connections throughout Delaware.”
Ammons is the first woman and the first African American to lead the Widener University School of Law, and one of only three African American women in the nation serving as dean of a law school. She is not only charged with training new lawyers, but also growing the school. Under her watch, many new initiatives have blossomed. The Widener Law Jurist Academy, sort of a training camp for prospective law students, wrapped up its second session this summer.
“Students from UD, DSU and all over are underrepresented in the legal profession, so we reach out during their last year of college to bring them in to show them a taste of what legal education is all about,” Ammons says.
This spring she oversaw the launch of Widener’s Environmental Law Center, which will harness the environmental law faculty to improve environmental, energy, and climate-change programs and policies in Delaware and Pennsylvania.
“The seed for many of these initiatives were planted before I got here,” Ammons says. “But I was the gardener who had to come in and rearrange and cultivate what had been sewn.”
Page 6: Chris Saridakis | Media
As chief digital officer for Gannett Company, the media giant whose assets include USA Today, the Detroit Free Press and our own News Journal, Chris Saridakis is changing the way you get news.
Surf delawareonline.com to get a feel for Saridakis’ work. Blogs, videos and live updates have revolutionized the way we consume news and entertainment. Saridakis and his team are charged with responding and developing strategies for Gannett.
“Whether it’s websites or iPhone applications that we build, it’s about developing a whole new distribution channel and leveraging Gannett’s depth of assets, whether that’s local content from The News Journal or national content from USA Today,” Saridakis says.
That role is more important than ever, considering the decline of print media. “We have launched a national brand, momslikeme.com, which was taking the local growth of our mom sites and aggregating them to a platform. We invested in a great company called LiveStream, which takes local news reporting to a new level. If you take a look at print publications online, a lot of them tend to look like newspapers, only on a website. We kind of turned that model on its head. LiveStream basically lets newspaper journalists broadcast live events, like editorial board meetings with the candidates.”
The New York native lives in Montchanin. Before Gannett, Saridakis was CEO of PointRoll, an advertising-technology company in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
Page 7: The Reverend David A. Farmer | Religion
The Reverend David A. Farmer
The Reverend David Farmer doesn’t have a beef with organ music, minor keys, solemn prayer or literal interpretation of The Bible. That stuff just isn’t for him.
Nor is it the program for members of of Silverside Church in North Wilmington, a flock of 150 people who work actively in a nondenominational congregation built upon intellectual stimulation, freedom of thought and social interaction. Silverside certainly isn’t the largest or most politically well-positioned church around, but it might represent the future of worship.
“We’ve always been sort of a renegade church,” Farmer says, “not like some smartass teenager, but because we never really fit the mold.”
The nearly 175-year-old church traces its progressive philosophy back to the 1930s and 1940s, when scientists flocked to the area during the DuPont Company’s chemistry boom. The church today has members who say they’re agnostic, and others say they don’t believe in an afterlife. Farmer’s Sunday sermons are even less typical.
“I did a sermon titled ‘Does God really exist?’” he says. Others include “How to be Polite to Fanatics,” “The Spirituality of Abigail Adams,” and an entire series of “God on Broadway,” in which he matched a Broadway show with a homily. The song “Only for Now,” from the risqué musical “Avenue Q,” became a sermon about the transience of life and being careful with how we use our time.
Farmer, a Tennessee native from the Southern Baptist tradition, has a doctorate in homiletics and is an adjunct professor of humanities at Wilmington University. This month he and Bill Perkins from the Friendship House will host a conference on poverty. Next month Wilmington Mayor James Baker will speak at the church.
“Churches do have to adapt to survive,” Farmer says. “In a small church where creativity and freedom of thought is valued, it’s easy for us to make changes.”
Page 8: Paul Herdman | Education
As president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation, Paul A. Herdman is tasked with the weighty job of revamping public schooling.
The former educator is growing the foundation’s ambitious Vision 2015, a collaboration among Rodel, elected officials, education leaders, businesses and citizens that is raising academic standards, investing in early childhood education and improving the quality of teachers.
Almost 30 schools in the state comprise the Vision Network (pilot programs for Vision 2015), and seven schools will begin their training in the fall.
“In the beginning, it was unclear where the best place to start was,” Herdman says. “My commitment was in creating the benchmark for the rest of the nation. Some thought we were beyond saving. Some thought we were fine. So in the end, we wound up somewhere in the middle of the pack.”
Rodel’s impact doesn’t end with Vision. The non-profit, founded in 1999, pushed hard to change the state testing program. In June legislators voted to replace the controversial DSTP with a computer-adaptive growth-model, the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System, next year.
Herdman also has Delaware fighting for a huge chunk of federal change. The U.S. Department of Education is allocating $4.35 billion in education stimulus funds into Race to the Top, a competition between all 50 states to see which is most dedicated to leading innovation in education. If Rodel and its allies can convince the feds Vision 2015 will make Delaware a model, they could wind up with nearly $400 million.
“I feel like we’re really well-positioned,” Herdman says. “I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk, but we have to display that political will that we are dedicated to these kids.”
Page 9: Alan Levin | Commerce
It’s an interesting time in our state government, says Alan Levin.
Interesting sounds right, considering the former Republican gubernatorial prospect and former head of the Happy Harry’s serves as democratic Governor Jack Markell’s director of economic development. Growing local businesses and attracting new ones is an immensely important job, given Delaware’s multi-million dollar deficit.
“This is the right place for me,” Levin says. “We get thousands of corporations that form in Delaware every year, and we’re trying to say, hey, not only is Delaware a great place to incorporate, it’s a great place to have your business.”
To accelerate growth of local businesses, Levin, Markell and DEDO launched LIFT, an initiative that grants small business owners subsidies on their loans. “This program—the first in the U.S.—is basically a small business stimulus program,” Levin says. “It allows companies to get out from under their debt for a two-year period and allows companies to have a breather.”
The hope is that, when the recession lifts, small businesses will be in a better position to repay and move forward. With the cooperation of local banks, and a growing roster of businesses on board, early returns on the program have been positive. “And it really has helped a number of small businesses survive what could’ve been a dismal third quarter.”
Levin also acts as master marketer for the state. His vast network of contacts from years on the board of the United States Chamber of Commerce and as chairman of the National Assocation of Chain Drug Stores has given him a leg-up in attracting new business. He is exploring all options.
“If there is something hot that’s working in Kansas, we want to know about it,” he says. “We’re not just credit cards anymore.”
Page 10: Robert Laskowski | Healthcare
Under CEO Robert Laskowski, Christiana Care has emerged as an indomitable healthcare force on the East Coast.
Between two acute-care hospitals staffed by some of the most talented physicians in the country, the National Cancer Institute-recognized Helen H. Graham Cancer Center, the Center for Heart and Vascular Health, and more advancements, Laskowski is steering a very large ship—and the rest of the country is taking notice.
“The leadership here is viewed as a responsibility,” Laskowski says. “We need to not only follow standards, but develop standards of excellence that set the tone for the entire region. Our aspirations are pretty bold. Given the resources and strengths of our community and my colleagues, we believe we can transform ourselves to the very best health care in the United States.”
Those strides are being made. In March Laskowski announced a new partnership between Christiana, Nemours, Thomas Jefferson University and the University of Delaware collectively known as the Delaware Health Science Alliance. The healthcare super-group is pooling resources, contacts and assets to develop a campus for healthcare education, a cancer biology center, and the Delaware Valley Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, a consortium they hope will lead to more grant money and fund even greater innovation. “That’s a multi-year effort that we think will be transformative in its own right,” Laskowski says.
On tap now for Laskowski: the massive, $205 million Wilmington Hospital expansion and rebuilding. The project will create between 1,000 to 2,000 construction jobs and, when completed, between 600 and 900 permanent jobs. Construction will be completed in four years.
“We view it as a transformative project,” he says. “After something transformative happens, you can’t remember what life was like before it.”
Page 11: Paul Weagraff | Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Weagraff is a leader in an arts world that needs solid leadership badly.
“Corporate and individual contributions are down, endowments and investments have dropped precipitously,” he says. “Many organizations are seeing declines in attendance, as people with fewer resources are making tough decisions.”
Needless to say, director of the Division of the Arts isn’t the cushiest of jobs right now. The job typically requires tireless advocacy, facilitating arts programs statewide, and managing budget formulation and grant applications yearly. But in lean times, DDOA must connect arts organizations from The Grand Opera House to the Delaware Friends of Folk to the resources they need to survive.
“We have throughout the year provided workshops available to all arts organizations on how to strengthen internally, some marketing workshops, some fundraising workshops,” he says, “also resources online that deal with how to look at your organization in the time of economic downturns.”
The news is not all bleak. Tough times and slim budgets have led to great creativity and collaboration among arts organizations. The Grand is holding free performances on Market Street during lunchtimes. OperaDelaware is teaming with Temple Opera to share the costs of a production. Organizations across the state are inventing new ways to market themselves. It’s all happened under Weagraff. The experienced actor has shown serious chops in the director’s chair.
Page 12: John Kowalko | Environment
John Kowalko considers himself a conduit, a voice, not just for constituents in his 25th Representative District, but for those who are passionate about the environment.
Kowalko, himself a former activist, is one of the few who have successfully reconciled a merger of activism and politics. His secret weapon: economics. “Once you track these issues and make an economic connection, it becomes so much easier to argue this from a politically viable point of view,” he says.
In the General Assembly, Kowalko sponsored bills to update and clarify Delaware’s Sustainable Energy Utility to make energy savings programs more attractive to builders, neighborhoods and towns. “That line where environmentalism crosses economics is one of the most important things,” he says. “We have to encourage participation by the citizens, the homeowners and the businesses.”
Kowalko has championed curbside recycling, hazardous waste clean-up and the Bluewater Wind farm. He’s also the legislator environmental activists count on to put their issues on the table. Green Delaware founder Alan Muller and Kowalko work closely with Jim Black from the Clean Air Council, Nick DiPasquale, conservation chairman with the Audubon Society, and Chad Tolman, energy chair to the Sierra Club.
Head of the House Energy Committee, Kowalko is helping to mold policy. Next session, he hopes to introduce colleagues to the benefits of geothermal energy. “I have an obligation as an activist and a legislator to be a vocal, persistent champion of the environment,” he says.
Page 13: Nancy Cook | Finance
Senator Nancy Cook counts seven significant economic downturns in her 35 years as a legislator. “Each one has its very unique issues,” she says. Yet the current mess may be the toughest yet.
Cook has co-chaired the Joint Finance Committee, which is responsible for balancing the state’s budget, since 1982.
With the state facing an $800 million shortfall at the beginning of the year, Cook and her colleagues on the committee faced some tough decisions. Chief among them was approving a 2.5 percent pay cut for state employees, the first such action in her career. “Everyone had a heavy heart, for sure,” she says.
Cook, of Kenton, began in the legislature in 1974, after her husband, Senator Allen J. Cook, passed away. She won a special election one month later. By 1976 she was named Senate majority whip and chair of the Capitol Bond Committee. But she’s made her name in the Finance Committee, to which she was appointed in 1976.
Cook and her committee have more tough roads ahead. Fiscal 2011 will be another trying one, one that may lead to even more unpopular decisions.
“Very honestly, state employees are not happy,” Cook says. “The scene in my mind is we don’t want layoffs. To preserve someone’s job is important to me.”