Not Seeking Re-Election
Run for Gumboro Man
Note: Above, Charles P. West campaigning outside the Sussex County Courthouse on Election Day 2000. Below, West, known for his feisty campaigning, engages in a spirited debate with an opponent's supporter on Election Day 2000.
Long-time state legislator Charles P. West (D-Gumboro) announced that he will not seek re-election to the 41st Representative District this fall.
Donald Ward, the Sussex County Democratic Party's Chair for the 41st District, said the 81-year-old West announced his decision to end his 26-year legislative run and spend more time with his family at a supporters' breakfast on Friday, June 28, 2002.
Ward, a retired educator who lives west of Millsboro, also said that he planned to file later on Friday for West's seat. If he becomes the Democratic nominee, a potential opponent could be Republican John Adkins, who has filed for the seat, as well. West said he would back Ward in the November election.
Reached at home Friday afternoon, West called the decision to step aside one of the most difficult of his life.
"It wasn't an easy one," he said. "It (retirement discussions) had been going on for quite awhile, I guess. I didn't make the decision until it was just about the time to announce I wasn't running. My family played a big part in that. I'd been for 26 years, more or less, at home, away from home, and my wife and my son and family thought it would be nice if I could spend some more time at home. That's what really made me change my mind. It wasn't easy. I'm gonna tell you, it was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I like competition. I thrive on it."
West cited his work in education, the establishment of Sussex County's Veterans Cemetery, highways, nutrient management, and helping people, no matter how small the problem, as the hallmarks of his legislative career.
In education, West said he helped establish four-year programs at Delaware Technical & Community College in Georgetown.
"I helped the college to get money to get certain things up there," said West. "I've always been a great supporter of education and highways an roads. The roads in my district as as good or better as any other district in Sussex County."
West credited those around him for his accomplishments, saying, "Why I was able to accomplish all of this was I had one of the best organizations in the state in the 41st District. I was always glad to help people, from septic systems to getting prescriptions. I tried to keep the federal government where it belonged and keep the state government from not taking privileges from the citizens of Delaware."
West said the biggest change he has seen in his career in Dover has been a separation between the people and their elected officials.
"I think the biggest change I've seen is that the legislatures are letting department heads take over rather than being the ones that represent the people," he said. "I don't think that's right. I always tried to return my phone calls."
West's wife Eleanor, who has been married to West for 55 years, said the family was pleased with the decision.
"We feel good about it," said Mrs. West. "He's 81 years old. He's on top of the hill now. He's served his constituents well. He's a people person."
For Mrs. West, the decision not to seek election comes about 24 years late. West served in the State House in 1957-58 but didn't run again until 1978. The 1978 decision threw Mrs. West for a loop.
"When he signed up in 1978, I didn't know about it," said Mrs. West, recalling the decision made by her husband and son. "I wasn't happy. I didn't talk to him for about two weeks, but I finally asked him, 'Why are you doing this?', and he said, 'Because I want to help people.'
"I can honestly say that is the true reason. He truly likes to help people."
The decision marks the end of one of the state house's longest terms. West served as state rep from 1957-58, and then returned in 1978 to the present for a total of 26 years.
As he leaves, the Millsboro High School graduate serves on the House's Agriculture Committee, its Education Committee, and its Natural Resources & Environmental Management Committee.
He is a founding member of the Gumboro Volunteer Fire Co., founded in 1954.
Ward said West's announcement was a difficult one.
"That was (announcement) a very emotional time," said Ward. "It was a very difficult decision for Charlie to make. He said it was the most difficult decision he's ever made in his life. His brother got up and made a speech and said he had encouraged Charlie not to run and said how proud he was of what Charlie had accomplished."
Ward said that West's long-time supporters understood the decision.
"There was kind of a feeling of, 'How are we ever going to get along without Charlie'," said Ward, "but no one tried to convince him to run again. Everyone respects his decision. When you're 81 and want to retire to spend time with your family, how can you not respect that?"
As for Ward's candidacy, he said that as a retired teacher and administrator, he would bring a great deal of educational experience to the House at a time when education continues to be one of the major issues facing the state.
Ward has 26 years of experience as a teacher, principal and supervisor of math and science curriculum at the old Millsboro High School and in the Indian River School District. He took early retirement from the district in 1991. He has a master's degree from East Carolina University and his principal's certificate.
Ward graduated from Millsboro High School and became the first member of his family to go to college. He still lives on the farm he grew up on, he said.
"There's a lot of discussion about testing and charter schools," said Ward. "I think I know some things about education and feel I have something to offer. I feel I can be of assistance and make a difference in that area.
"With my background in chemistry and science, I also understand environmental issues. I run a small business and while the state is a big business, I understand budgets and appropriate financial planning."
Ward's son Drew graduated from Millersville University. He and his son currently operate a real estate investment firm, Sussex Ventures Inc.
Ward said he is active in his church, a 37-year member and past president of the Millsboro Lions Club. He said he long been involved in community service, including two winters repairing homes for victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida and building a church in Costa Rica.
West said he intended to back Ward in the upcoming election for the 41st District.
"I sure do," he said. "I think he's a very good choice. If it (Democrats' replacement) hadn't been a good choice, I wouldn't have made it (decision to step down). I think he'll do an outstanding job ... with my help. We're still going to represent the people in the 41st District as we have in the past. I can't make it any clearer than that. I used to be a boxer in my younger days and I still have a lot to do. I'm liable to show up anywhere."
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