First Person Singular

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I wanted to be a lawyer just like my dad. We used to call him Atticus Finch. He was all by himself, had his own practice. A very accomplished trial attorney with a sharp, sharp mind. My father always encouraged us to be involved, to get involved. In our house, public service was considered an honorable thing. Then, when I was in college, I volunteered for a little-known senator from Colorado who was a long-shot presidential hopeful, known by only 2 percent of the American public, named Gary Hart. He gave me a whole lot of responsibility at a very young age in politics, and showed me that one person can make a difference. I was not an advance man or a finance guy, you know; I was the organizer. I would hit the ground; I would go farm to farm, line up our captains for the caucuses at the local precincts. I organized in Iowa and Oklahoma, all over the country. It was almost like a "Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" experience: I stepped into the wardrobe, and I matured greatly in a very short period of time. That was a very reinforcing experience for me.

I thought that my talent in public service and in politics was to be that organizer, the behind-the-scenes person. It was only later that I kind of clicked in that one day I would like to try, myself, and run as a candidate. I served two terms on the Baltimore City Council, and my kids were older, and I was glad I had done it, but at the same time, I had a primary responsibility to provide for my kids. And so I was getting ready to get out altogether until Kweisi Mfume decided not to run for mayor. I told my wife: "You've got to let me try. Because if you don't let me try, I'm going to be kicking myself for the rest of my life." And you can't live like that. The battle is always the same, right? I mean either you are going to change the world, or the world is going to change you.

Interview by KK Ottesen

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