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Lessons Learned! But You Still Have To Try!
David 'Kip' Koontz

March 27, 2002

At a recent function I met a 21-year-old young man who is also an alumni of Western Maryland College. We discussed many things, from the impending name change of the school to the current state of the economy.

What surprised me, however, was during some discussions about things politic and about government he responded that he "wasn't interested in things like that."

I was surprised as I thought that he, a recent college graduate from a liberal arts college, would, beyond a doubt, be interested in matters such as those.

Yet, when questioned as to why he was so disinterested, he responded something to the effect of, "nothing I could do could change things anyway." He summed his position up by saying, "Nothing I do or can say matters in a system as broken as ours is."

I was stunned. I couldn't believe someone so young and well educated could feel so disenfranchised.

I attempted, to no avail, to prove to him you can indeed change things, even if in some little way if you try hard enough.

I discussed this conversation with several other people to gauge their thoughts on this young man's feelings. To my surprise, many, actually most, of the people I talked to feel as this young man does.

When I queried as to whether they felt disenfranchised from the national, state or local level, they responded, "All."

What a sad state of affairs.

The general consensus of opinion is that people feel that most elected officials only truly represent their own interests.

They say the only other way to get truly heard is if you contribute to the elected person's campaign coffers or are perceived as being able to further the goals of said elected person. These folks could list many examples to prove their point.

Interestingly, most people with whom I spoke turned the tables on me and asked me why these feelings would surprise me in light of what occurred during my races for public office.

I was puzzled. I asked them to tell me what they meant, to give me examples of what they were talking about. After all, I was the one who ran, so wouldn 't I know what happened to me during my campaigns?

No one would ever call me a Pollyanna. Yet, I guess I had a belief in the system and in people that I never realized I had.

Maybe I was just being stupid and wanted to believe in something so badly that I chose to see beyond certain behavior in order to fulfill my view of the world.

After reflection, I realized it is probably the second of these two assertions that happened. Here is why.

I will focus more on my race for alderman, more so than the race for delegate in 1998, though the end result comes as a result of things that happened during both.

I realize now that during this campaign, I was isolated. Isolated from my running mates on the aldermanic ticket and isolated from the nominee for mayor.

I realize now that many active Democrats and Democratic office holders helped other candidates actively, while my team was made up of volunteers whom I begged, beat and busted to get them to help pass out literature, put up signs, make phone calls and so forth.

I realize now that, even though I was on the Democratic ticket, I was really considered deadweight, the fifth place finisher in the primary, who, while technically on the ticket, was a liability.

While a few felt it was great that we had two black candidates, three women candidates and a gay candidate, I realize now, that I was just being humored.

I was looked at as kind of like the daft son who everyone tolerates at the dinner table on holidays, but who isn't invited anywhere the rest of the year.

It is shocking to find out the things that happened, the campaigning that candidates did together, the joint meet and greets and fund-raisers that occurred between some of the candidates.

What did I do to cause these people to dislike me so?

It took these discussions to make me realize that while they may have liked me, "as a person", the "gay thing" far outweighed anything else.

Why should these people embrace me when they can support each other without a risk? Why should they risk losing by embracing me (and thus be tainted by the "gay thing"), when ultimately the goal is to win, right?

The people I spoke with told me how it hurt to watch other candidates turn away from me when I would go up to them to speak.

They told me it was frustrating to hear ideas I came up with first usurped by other candidates who took credit for them - especially when that candidate came up with no new ideas on their own.

They said it was difficult to watch someone who lives an honest life, as one said a "Christian life", where I try to improve the world around me, lose to people who have hidden or bent the truth simply for their own gain.

They told me they couldn't stand watching me work as hard as I did only to have other candidates in my own party spread untruths and innuendoes about my beliefs and reasons for running.

They said they couldn't understand why the bulk of my contributions came from those who are affiliated with other parties while I was working so hard to promote the Democratic team. Note: though 4 of 6 elected in November are Democrats, it was a Republican who invited me to the inaugural festivities. Team?

They said it was miserable to watch me being pigeon holed as the "gay candidate" when only 6 gay/lesbian people in Frederick helped the campaign in any way. (For those of you who don't know, I am criticized by gay folk in more biting and vicious terms and on a more regular basis than I am by the "Christian Coalition," so I guess I don't fit in anywhere).

The list went on and on.

I sat amazed as I heard these things unfold before me.

I thought at first of a statement made by a woman - days before the votes were even counted - that she "hoped my loss wouldn't prevent me from staying involved in some way." She said that I ran a good race for my first time (and she lived here in 1998) but pointed out that people aren't ready to vote for a "gay" yet.

At the same time she was supporting a candidate who had only lived in Frederick for 2 years. She told me that I needed to do things in Frederick to "prove myself."

She thought that I needed to ask Herzonner, when she won, to appoint me to some boards and commissions to "gain experience" and "learn about Frederick."

She said this while her car sported a "Dougherty for Mayor" bumper sticker.

How ironic is that, though? I am supposed to serve on boards and commissions to "gain experience", yet the one we elected mayor, didn't? Why the double standard?

She continued that serving Frederick in that capacity would help me become "less threatening to people" and would help show people that I had gained the experience I needed to serve - should I ever chose to run again.

With that kind of ringing endorsement, would you?

Yet that one conversation sums up my entire campaign experience in the party that begins with D.

As a result of this self-examination, I am torn as to what I should do. My initial reaction is to say "to hell with it." I have other things to do with my life rather than deal with this kind of overt/covert bigotry. But that would make all the wrong people way too happy.

Some thought was put as to whether I should switch to the party that starts with R.

That's funny to think about. But the reality of the matter is that outside of giving the lion's share of money to fund my candidacy, many "R's" have been the most public and helpful to me emotionally during my public life.

Many R's have encouraged me to switch. Yet in a party with Alex Mooney, Tim Ferguson and others who promote policies that would exclude me from the protection of law (not to mention the wish that I didn't exist at all) makes the likelihood of a switch in parties doubtful.

Further, I have had to question if I really believe that participating in the process really matters at all. I mean, geez, my experience really has been that no matter what I have said to whom, nothing has changed.

Or has it?

The few that said I should be proud of what I have accomplished say that I should take refuge in knowing that issues of tolerance, equality and civil rights that would not have been discussed have been as a result of my work.

They say that I should be proud that I add to the debate by writing for The Tentacle, by being on Pressing Issues on Adelphia's Cable 10, by testifying at City and Winchester Halls and in Annapolis.

These folks say that I may help change things through this process and that public service comes in many forms. They say I should be happy to do what I can and that winning isn't really everything after all.

Unlike one candidate who ran for alderman who actually told people she was only running "for something to do," I have run for office because I was raised in a home where you were taught to give back to the community in which you lived.

In that vein, I should be satisfied doing what I can, no matter the form it takes.

It's just that so far, I am not certain if there are but a few close friends who really care.

One day I want to be invited to sit at the adult table not because I am the daft son who must be tolerated, but because someone has recognized that I am a full-fledged deserving person who can add something to the debate.

The 21-year-old Western Maryland alumni called me the other day and wanted to know if we could go to lunch. He said that since he is just starting out in business, he would appreciate any advise I might be able to give.

Should I tell him he was right all along?


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