Teens Too Young to Vote Blaze a Campaign Trail

Avi Edelman, left, and Adam Yalowitz, 17-year-old seniors at Montgomery Blair High School, share
Avi Edelman, left, and Adam Yalowitz, 17-year-old seniors at Montgomery Blair High School, share "war stories" with Valerie Ervin about working on her County Council bid. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 4, 2006

When Valerie Ervin was looking for help for her fledgling Montgomery County Council campaign, she said she turned to the best.

Adam Yalowitz and Avi Edelman were campaign operatives with a vision. They had an uncanny knack for analyzing voting patterns and precinct lists. With a simple instant message, the duo could mobilize an extensive network of volunteers to walk precincts. They were fluent in YouTube, MySpace and Facebook.

There was only one downside: At 17, neither of them is old enough to vote.

"The adults thought I was crazy," said Ervin, who recruited the pair, seniors at Montgomery Blair High School, in June. "They said, 'You cannot risk your reputation by having two 17-year-olds run your campaign.' But in reality, they knew what they were doing."

Ervin knew that what the two lacked in age, they made up for in enthusiasm.

Yalowitz and Edelman had been among the most active workers on Ervin's 2004 campaign for a seat on the county Board of Education. She knew them for their ability to mobilize and manage large numbers of volunteers -- many of them students -- and they seemed to understand what it took to win over voters.

They wrote a strategy paper that was instrumental in persuading Ervin to enter the race for the District 5 seat, representing Silver Spring, on the council.

"It was just exactly what you needed to do to run a campaign," she said about the 15-page plan that Yalowitz drafted during the ride home from a cousin's bar mitzvah in New Jersey. "They even had a preliminary budget."

Ervin, 49, had considered hiring a professional consultant to run her campaign. But because she entered the race in June after the incumbent, Tom Perez, announced that he would step down to run for state attorney general, most were already tied up with other campaigns. Convincing Yalowitz and Edelman that she was serious about hiring them took some doing.

"We asked her who was going to run her campaign," Yalowitz said. "And she said, 'Well, the thing is, I want you guys to do it,' and we said, 'Ha ha, no really -- who's going to run your campaign?' "

Although Ervin's longtime friend Susan Phillips, 51, was the campaign's official manager, Yalowitz and Edelman were instrumental in developing strategy and mobilizing volunteers, Ervin said.

The pair employed techniques they had perfected during Ervin's school board campaign -- and a few student races: shoe leather, free pizza ("You have to have free food to get the students," Yalowitz said) and the Internet. They studied voting patterns from Ervin's previous race and mapped out a strategy to reach areas where they thought she was most vulnerable. They created a Facebook page. They shot video and posted it on YouTube. They used instant-messaging buddy lists to rally volunteers. They created buzz among students at several schools in the county, who proved to be the campaign's most dependable volunteers, distributing free pencils and T-shirts.

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