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Donnie Quixote

Posted 2/18/2004

Brian Bailey, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who only months ago moved out of his parents' Lansdowne home, is a bona fide candidate for public office--possibly, he tells the Nose, the youngest ever in Maryland. And he's facing some tough competition: incumbent city and county council members, former and current members of the state General Assembly, a past U.S. attorney for Maryland, established union leaders, the erstwhile chair of the Maryland Democratic Party--even a wealthy venture capitalist who plays golf with Bill Clinton. Bailey, the son of a medical secretary and a metal-manufacturing worker, is a long shot in a race that few voters care about: for delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, scheduled for late July in Boston. During the March 2 Democratic primaries in Maryland, Bailey's 3rd Congressional District, which includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties, will hold two gender-based elections for convention delegate, with three selected from each. Thirty-four men--including the above-mentioned luminaries--are in Bailey's race.

"I'm running to make a point, to encourage youth involvement in politics," Bailey explains during a break between classes in mid-February. He's eager and earnest as he sits at a table in the Commons, the cavernous, mall-like student hall at UMBC, where he plans to run for the student senate in the spring. "Convention delegates don't have to be well-connected, established people," he continues. "I think voters are interested in sending average citizens to the national convention."

We'll see. Other than his greenhorn status, Bailey has another tactical disadvantage: He's running as an uncommitted delegate. Nearly all of the other candidates will have the names of presidential contenders--John Kerry or Howard Dean, for instance--printed next to theirs on the ballot. Committed delegates tend to garner votes from supporters of the various campaigns, but Bailey and a small group of others aren't affiliated with any candidate and have to tough it out on their own--which almost always fails at the polls.

"Nobody votes uncommitted," explains one of Bailey's rivals, Jamie Kendrick, executive director of the Service Employees International Union chapter in Maryland and Washington, D.C. "You have to be a delegate for a specific candidate in order to have any chance to get to the convention," contends Kendrick, who's hitched himself to the Dean train. "I salute the young man for running," he adds. "And I hate to say it, because I wish him the best, but he doesn't stand a chance unless there is a huge and unprecedented surge in uncommitted voters."

Kendrick's realism, and sympathy for Bailey's first stab at office, is rooted in his own personal history. Like Bailey, Kendrick first ran for public office when he was an 18-year-old University of Maryland student, losing his 1994 bid to join the Howard County Board of Education. Echoing Bailey's tentative boast, Kendrick recalls, "I was the youngest person in Maryland ever to run for public office."

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