Sen. Simpson to retire, Rep. Wilson files for election

DOVER — Delaware Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson announced Friday he will not run for re-election this year after Rep. Dave Wilson, a Bridgeville Republican, filed earlier in the day to seek the 18th Senatorial District seat.

Sen. Simpson, 70, a Milford Republican who has been minority leader for nine years, was first elected to the Senate in 1998. He had said last month he was contemplating retirement.

He issued a statement Friday after Rep. Wilson, 68, filed.

“I have made a decision not to run for re-election to the 18th Senate District seat,” he said. “When I made that decision, I informed Rep. Wilson and a few others that I would be announcing my intent when we returned to legislative session in March.

“I am disappointed that I was unable to announce my retirement on my own terms. I will have more to say when we return to session.”

He was unavailable to comment directly.

Rep. Wilson said he filed Friday because he wanted to beat several other people to it who are planning to run for the Senate seat. He has held the 35th Representative District seat since 2008.

“Gary has made it known he is not running again,” he said in a statement. “The information has been circulating for a while and I don’t think I’m disclosing anything that hasn’t already been discussed in coffee shops throughout the district. I have spoken with Sen. Simpson and told him about my intentions.”

In an interview he said he informed Sen. Simpson Friday morning.

“I just think it’s important to be a frontrunner,” Rep. Wilson said.

Sen. Simpson, Rep. Wilson relayed, had little to say upon being told the news.

This is the second time in the past four months a senator has had their retirement announcement preempted. Wilmington Councilman Sam Guy announced in late September he would run for the 2nd Senatorial District seat held by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, a Wilmington Democrat.

This year marks the 20th year Sen. Simpson has been in office. In 2014, his most recent election, he garnered two-thirds of the vote.

His retirement opens up the Senate Republican caucus leadership post for the first time since 2008, when Sen. Charlie Copeland opted not to run for re-election.

There’s a chance, however, it won’t be a member of the GOP assuming the mantle as head of the Senate minority caucus: By flipping one seat in November, Republicans can take control of the chamber for the first time since 1973.

Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, a Sharpley Republican, would seem to be the most likely candidate to lead the GOP caucus.

The 18th Senatorial District, with about 200 more registered Republicans than Democrats, is one of only four in the state where Democrats are a minority. The district crosses county borders, stretching from north of Milford down to Ellendale and encompassing Harrington, Greenwood and Slaughter Beach.

Both Sen. Simpson and Rep. Wilson are natives of the Milford area.

Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, a Wilmington Manor Democrat, praised Sen. Simpson in a statement.

“Gary is the type of leader who has continually elevated the dialogue in Dover,” he said. “Working with him has been a tremendous honor and a real pleasure, and I’m sorry to hear of his decision to retire.

“I have considered Gary and his family true friends before either of us served in leadership, and I consider him one of the finest Sussex County gentlemen with whom I’ve ever worked.”

Sen. Simpson joins Sen. Henry and Sen. Brian Bushweller, a Dover Democrat, in not seeking re-election to the Senate.

In the House, Rep. Wilson and Rep. Trey Paradee, a Cheswold Democrat running for Sen. Bushweller’s seat, are both campaigning for the Senate.

Rep. Melanie George Smith, a Democrat from Bear, is also not running for another term; and Rep. J.J. Johnson, a New Castle Democrat, is said to be planning to retire.

Matt Bittle writes for the Delaware State News. Reach him at mbittle@newszap.com

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