The very young guns of politics: 18-year-old friends seek spots on Pr. George's school board

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 10:07 PM

On Monday, David Murray stood on a sidewalk in front of the College Park Community Center. Early voting had begun in Maryland, and the candidate for the Prince George's County Board of Education was trolling for votes.

"Hi, I am David Murray. I'm running for the Board of Education. May I ask, what city do you live in?"

Edward Burroughs was engaged in a similar effort not far away, just outside the Oxon Hill Library.

"Here you go, ma'am," the District 8 school board candidate said as he handed out a campaign flier. "Our school system needs a change."

Both were late for class.

It is no accident that Murray, who is running for a seat in District 1, and Burroughs are running for office now. Or running for seats on the Board of Education. Or even out campaigning when they should be in class.

"I have a math class at 12:15," Burroughs said during an interview outside the library. "But I'm coming back to campaign until it's dark."

Burroughs is an education policy major at Bowie State; Murray is studying economics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The two have been planning - some might say plotting - their political careers together since they were in sixth grade. Now they are working to make their lifelong dream of holding an elected office a reality - even if their lives thus far total just 18 years each.

"We didn't make a pact about running for political office, but we have both decided to do the same thing," Murray said.

Rosalind Johnson, the county board member from District 1, praised Murray, her opponent. But she also said now is not the time for him to serve in the elected position.

"We want our children taking our place, but we want them to do that when they are ready," said Johnson, who has been on the board since 2006. "The reality is an 18-year-old or a 20-year-old can never go through the same experiences that someone older has had."

Steven Morris, a Fort Washington resident and a former teacher and administrator at Forestville High School, was even more candid in his assessment of Burroughs, whom he'll face on the ballot. "He is a child, and I am a professional," Morris said.

"The issues are too complex for someone who really has no experience with life to represent the educators, administrators and children of Prince George's County," Morris added. "My opponent needs to focus more on school and preparing himself for life as opposed to running for public office."

Burroughs points out that it is he and not Morris who has experience on the school board: He's been the student representative.

For his part, Murray said the current group of school board members has lost touch with students and teachers across the county.

"I have been in the public schools for 12 years, and I want other students who come behind me to have a better experience than I had," he said.

Murray and Burroughs met when they were middle-school students participating in the Prince George's Regional Association of Student Governments. Both were 12-year-olds who, despite being outnumbered by high school students in the organization, held their own, said Richard Moody, student affairs supervisor of the Safe and Drug Free Schools program, which oversees SGA programs in the county.

"I remember David from being a leader at Yorktown Elementary," Moody said. "Edward really evolved as a student leader and became very political."

Moody said this is the first time in his 15 years with the student government association that a former member has run for an elected position while still in school.

As a student at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, Murray was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to be the student representative on the Maryland State Board of Education.

Burroughs, a graduate of Crossland High in Temple Hills, was elected in 2008 to be the student representative on the Prince George's County Board of Education, and he was reelected to a second term in 2009.

Earlier this year, Murray and Burroughs worked as interns for Maryland State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's).

The two young men say they rely on each other for support, often talking several times a day. But they make it clear that they are very different.

Burroughs clashed with leaders on the board and spoke frequently during discussions, arguing for a student perspective in debates over school policies.

Murray, admittedly the more reserved of the two, won expanded voting rights this year for the student member of the state board.

"I work extremely hard," Murray said. "When I am not in class, I am knocking on doors. Edward is more confrontational; I am more laid-back, but he gets his point across."

"He enjoys campaigning," Burroughs said of Murray. "For me, it's more about reducing class sizes, saving programs and engaging parents."

Friends, yes. But the two say they are also competitive and very critical of each other.

"That is what makes you better," Burroughs said, "when friends can have a heated conversation with each other."

Even if that conversation occurs at 4 a.m., as their talks have during the final weeks of the campaign. Between classes and campaigning, it's the only time the two say they have to strategize.

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