After 11 terms, Rep. Helene Keeley makes room for the next generation

By Joyce L. Carroll
Special to Delaware Business Times

Delaware’s longest-serving state representative may be stepping down from her 3rd District seat this year, but Democrat Helene Keeley is adamant that she won’t be walking away from public service or community involvement. In addition to her legislative role, she is the community relations coordinator for the Delaware Department of Labor, a position she’s held since 2004.

Keeley’s decision not to seek re-election came as an afterthought. “Weeks after I filed, I had the feeling that it was time to leave the General Assembly. [It was time] to give someone else the opportunity to fulfill their dreams to help the community,” she said. “I had no opposition this year, it would have been easy for me, but I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.”

Keeley’s 11 terms in office are testament to her popularity among voters. Her perseverance personifies the adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” She lost three elections before winning her seat in 1996.

On the House floor, Keeley sponsored bills ranging from an amendment to hemp-cultivation regulations to the creation of a study group examining shift-worker protection. She served on various committees, including revenue and finance, of which she was chair, and gaming and parimutuels, of which she was vice chair.

She also rallied successfully for the establishment of the statewide foreclosure mediation program, among other initiatives. She worked amicably under four governors, beginning with Tom Carper. She said her face-to-face connections with her constituents were the greatest rewards of her tenure.

“It’s both seeing people and being a part of their lives for 22 years. Most gratifying is that constituent who didn’t know how to navigate the system, and then is able to do it on her own,” she said.

What are her hopes for Delaware’s future?

“Making sure that our diverse, robust cultures are respected and that sometimes the divide between north of the [C&D] Canal and south of the canal can be minimized,” she said.” We’re all Delawareans, and all really need each other.”

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