No such thing as bad publicity.
That little peanut floated to the top of the Pepsi can this week.
The scene: Talk radio station Delaware 105.9 FM's Lewes studio. The players: Host Dan Gaffney; his invited guest for the hour, Sussex County Council candidate Rob Arlett; and then, suddenly, a guest Gaffney would soon eject from the room: Arlett's opponent in the Sept. 9 primary, incumbent Council member Vance Phillips.
In a highly unscripted encounter whose awkwardness carried quite clearly over the airwaves, Phillips surprised Gaffney and Arlett Thursday by dropping in on their one-on-one chat about Arlett's campaign stances and answers to listener calls.
"Vance Phillips, your opponent, has just walked in the studio. Vance, I thought we had an agreement for next Tuesday," Gaffney said.
"How you left it was, this was an open debate," Phillips countered. "I was under the impression that I would be welcome."
Listeners then learned the following: Gaffney and Phillips had been texting each other for days to set up an on-air interview. Phillips told Gaffney Thursday morning was out because he had a scheduled surgery, one of many following a 2011 ultralight-plane accident that damaged his spine; Gaffney believed Phillips would come to the studio on Tuesday, Sept. 2, instead. Phillips said the surgery got rescheduled – so there he was.
"I would say, I've not eaten anything in two days. I might be a little off," Phillips said matter-of-factly. "But I thought I'd be welcome. If I'm intruding I can leave."
At first, Gaffney seemed like he'd ignore the second candidate in the room, and took a caller who had a question for Arlett about farmland preservation. But then Gaffney said: "Since Vance has walked in in the middle of this interview, what is it you'd like to say? You walked in and sat yourself down there."
"I think it's important the voters hear both our voices," Phillips said calmly. "I've never seen you look so puzzled, Dan."
The next caller, Eileen in Lewes, was the first one to take in just what was transpiring. And she didn't like it.
"You have a perfect example of what I've always thought about Sussex County politics and the way things work," she said. "I don't have to have an appointment! I can do what I want, come and go as I want – I'm running the show. Good ol' boys network."
It didn't get any better for Phillips from there. "Does the caller have a point?" Gaffney asked as Arlett, still in the studio, said nothing to interrupt things. [He later called the episode "shameful" for Phillips, and said it shows "the opponent thinks it's all about him."] "The only person doing an ambush here is you."
Phillips gave no ground. "You didn't respond [to a text message] for two days, Dan. I thought that was a little rude," he said. "I'm sure you've got callers lined up to attack me."
"I am not lining up any callers. You're outta your mind," Gaffney said, sounding exasperated. "Are you on pain meds? I'm serious."
After two more calls, Gaffney collected his thoughts well enough to propose a next step: Both candidates could come on the show together on Tuesday, Sept. 2 in the morning for a debate. Arlett was fine with that.
Phillips, though, said he'd hoped for a one-on-one chat that day, the kind Arlett was having with Gaffney before his surprise entrance. "That's a little disappointing," he said. "I did make an extra effort to get here."
Which is when Gaffney booted him out. "Could you leave now? I would like you to leave," Gaffney said.
Phillips made an exit, perhaps not a graceful one. "Because Dan doesn't have his ducks lined up, we'll do it next Tuesday," he said to Arlett, and the audience, as he left.
A few weeks ago, it was Phillips who grew exasperated with Gaffney on-air. The host asked Phillips to say something about a much-publicized lawsuit targeting him as a defendant. The plaintiff, a young woman who worked in Sussex GOP politics, accused Phillips of sexual abuse that terrified her so much she feared telling anyone about it. Phillips, in court papers, denied any wrongdoing but isn't willing to say much about the suit otherwise, citing legal advice.
"Do you deny the allegations?" Gaffney asked him several times in the Aug. 1 interview, which took place in a crowded Bridgeville restaurant serving breakfast.
"Dan, are you gonna just really try to ruin this interview by putting this out there when you know that I can't say a thing?" Phillips replied then. "If you and my other detractors want to either entertain Sussex County with this very unfortunate set of circumstances, it really does question your professionalism, I believe."
To keep the story current and ducks, due respect to the participants here, in a row, it should be mentioned that since this incident, and the initial story reprinted here, Phillips has sent a letter of apology to Gaffney and Arlett with a sincere, or disingenuous depending on your personal political stripe, yada yada blah blah blah about low blood sugar or something and Gaffney has declared, via social media, that he is ready to move on and get on with the upcoming debate.
Meanwhile, from the disclaimer folder:
Although all of this is taking place in my own backyard, I confess that I don't know enough about Sussex County politics to offer any intelligent opinion about the race per se.
And I have guest hosted, on air, for some of the folks at Delaware 105.9, including Dan Gaffney.
That said, any appearances or appearance notwithstanding, I have no agenda writing this piece.
From an outside looking in point of view, though, I think it fair to offer that, at best, Vance Phillips hasn't done himself any favors with the voters of Sussex Country.
Lunacy and/or prescription influenced wack a doo-ness might be all the rage in the more urban clusters of our U.S of A, but it really doesn't inspire voter loyalty amongst the folk living, working and/or lever pulling amongst the population of this more "traditional" part of the map.
That old saying about publicity comes in to play at this point, though.
And not so much from where you might suspect it plays.
Because, trust me when I tell you from personal experience, that the life blood of talk radio is not only people talking on the radio about what they've heard on the news, on the streets and/or in the world, but, perhaps even more so, people talking about what they've heard on the radio.
And people are talking about Vance Phillips and Rob Arlett and Dan Gaffney.
So, with a little understandably biased "atta boy, Dan" coming from this section of the cheap seats, permit me, if you will, to sum it up accordingly.
Bet the farm that the listeners/voters of Sussex Country appreciate an advocate who shoots straight and from the hip in the person of Dan Gaffney.
But I'll double down on the money that Dan Gaffney appreciates a loose cannon like Vance Phillips.
If only because this kind of brouhaha might be the stuff of campaign manager's nightmares.
But it's a station sales manager's dream come true.