Inside Feature

"All of my campaign planks are copyrighted under the copyright law. And I intend to promote them myself. I intend to promote `universal' rights in the next century. The emphasis is to take the politics out of the Republican and Democrat hotels. We're losing about 100,000 students - murdered every year - by whiskey sales. Like in the Kentucky bus matter. I'm campaigning for Right to Life and Right to Graduate. Amendment 5 and Amendment 18 are your background regulations. I'm 61. I've been teaching school but haven't really pushed hard to get another teaching job this semester. Yes, so that I have enough time to campaign! I began it when Jimmy Carter first campaigned against Gerald Ford. I don't want to advertise in the "News Cartel Intoxicant Syndicate'" - meaning newspapers and magazines that accept alcohol ads - "so I do all this by mail. I will not mail materials to you, however, because you say you're going to publish them in a book - "

"Wait," I interrupted. "I said newspaper article."
"Oh." Then, in a high-pitched Mr. Haney wheedle, "You're writing a newspaper article? All right. What's your address?"

He took it. The stuff never came. (I did eventually receive materials from a like-minded candidate, The Messiah, who mailed a stack of business cards and a platform statement that was long on idealism but woefully short on specifics. "End Poverty!! End crime!! End unemployment!! End war!! End disease!! End insanity!! ect. [sic] Tired of the insanity!! God Bless The United States of America!! The Universe!! I took it!!")

Call two was to Beltsville's Tracy Allen "Hollywood" Hall, a 23-year-old University of Maryland student who ran to win a bet with a friend. (The friend didn't believe Hall could be officially listed as a candidate. Before ponying up for a six-pack, the friend should call the FEC for its ruling.) Hall claims he's been overwhelmed by mail since filing. A lot comes from oily consultants eager to "help" him, but he also heard from elementary-school naifs in Rocky Mount, Va., requesting his campaign materials for a class project. (One wonders: Will his cynicism breed kiddie contempt for "the process"?)

Call three was to an Alexandria, Virginia, man whose name I'll humanely skip. A woman answered, heard me out, and whispered, "He's asleep now. He's not doing that well at it [running for president]. He sort of has a problem. But he likes it. He likes the attention. Why don't you call back later?"

Call four was to a young man from Lanham, Maryland, whose name I'll type in all caps, ROBERT LEE SAUNDERS. Why the harsh singling-out? Call me a nut cutter, but I think anyone who files for president shouldn't have his mom screen calls once the Fourth Estate starts homing in with tough questions.

"Hello," I began, "is Robert Lee Saunders home?"
"What is this about?" a woman's voice said.
What else? His bid to wrestle the nuclear-codes "football" from the patrician talons of George Bush. "It's about his presidential race."

"He was running for president, I don't know if he still is. I would rather have him give you that information."

"Are you Robert Lee's mom?"
"Yes. Listen, it's better if you talk to him. I'll give him the message." That seemed unlikely. Groping, I tried the truant-officer approach.

"Please put Bobbie Lee on the phone now."
"I told you he isn't available now."
Pause. "He's never going to call back, is he?"

"Let's just say that I suggest that if you don't hear from him you not call anymore."

I didn't. And the early yield of my informal research method - two cranks, a college boy "scamming" the system, a senile gentleman, and a quivering mass of mama's-boy protoplasm who is probably grounded until he's 40 ("And I don't want you ever bringing the glare of media scrutiny into this house again!") - convinced me I needed an expert with a view of the big picture.

Part Two
Shockingly, there is one. "I believe the overwhelming majority of these people are geriatrics, the disenfranchised elderly," argues Tod Moore, editor of Zephyr (an alternative weekly in Galesburg, Illinois) and the closest person we currently have to a Norm Ornstein of non-mainstream pols. Moore, a former parallel-universe candidate himself, knows the landscape. He ran for mayor of Galesburg on a Zen Symbolist ticket in '81. After that he moved to Seattle, where "there was a guy running against Scoop Jackson in the Democratic primary - John G. Haverty, who was in Walla Walla prison serving a thirteen-year sentence as a `habitual criminal.' I was appointed to be his campaign manager. In '88, when Bill `Spaceman' Lee ran for president" - Lee ran on the Rhino Party's platform; Moore "can't remember" what the party advocated - "I chaired his Western Regional `hind'quarters."

Do not mistake Moore for a nut, however. Whatever his original motivations, he long ago stepped out of the goofball arena and is now mainly interested in chronicling this subculture. Zephyr has a unique editorial mission as the only "public-access paper" in the country. Libel aside, says Moore, you write it, he prints it. This year, partly as a way to bring lively material to Zephyr's pages, Moore wrote every candidate listed on an earlier, slightly slimmer edition of the FEC roster and awaited the flood. The results are still dribbling in, but Moore is able to offer some useful generalizations.

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