Donald Badgely was incorrectly identified in Monday's story about the Presidential Kook Convention as being a political independent. Badgely, in fact, is seeking the Republican nomination.
They are all dark horses.
Some are penniless. One has millions to spend.
They say they are committed to their candidacies. One has been committed to an insane asylum.
Several say they get their instructions from God. One gets his on a pay phone at 2 o'clock every morning.
They were gathered at the First Presidential Kookie Candidate Convention held Saturday in Atlanta.
Nick Belluso, a 57-year-old Atlanta investment counselor who organized the affair, knows something about attracting publicity. When he ran for governor of Georgia in 1978 he used a hypnotist to persuade television viewers to vote for him.
More than 12,000 voters fell under his sway.
This year Belluso is one of 110 candidates for president of the United States who have registered with the Federal Elections Commission. Twenty lesser-known aspirants accepted his invitation to appear at a converted supermarket called the Rhein Garten Ballroom, where, as Belluso promised, the press was out in force.
For the occasion, the former A&P was festooned with flags and poticial bunting. The public, which was invited to participate as "delegates," was greeted by women in straw boatters, handing out ballots in order to selected the "People's Choice." Security was provided by four of Belluso's friends, dressed as Keystone Kops. A small orchestra, located where the dairy products once had been, played Glenn Miller tunes. From the beginning the crowd was small, and it grew smaller as the afternoon wore on.
Among the candidates there was an air of we'll show you, since many of them believe that their merits have been unfairly ignored by the press, and that they have been forced to turn to gimmickry to gain any forum at all.
Frank Ahern (D-La.), wearing a Marine Corp flight jacket, stood erect in his booth while martial music played in the background. Candidate Ahren is "one of the foremost leaders in the field of electronic computers," according to his literature, but he uses his war record to get attention. "It's like Kefauver's coonskin hat," he says, pointing to his medal-laden veteran's cap. "Actually, I'm in favor of cutting defense spending." Other planks in his platform include a nationwide program of beautification projects using welfare recipients, the eliminatin of speed traps and the intense cultivation of oyster farms. "Under Frank Ahern, you will have oyesters up to here," he promises.
This is not his first campaign. He ran in 1976 and is proud to point out that he is "the first native-born Louisianan to be officially voted on for the presidency." He was on the ballot in Georgia, placing ahead of Sargent Shriver and Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp.
"It's tough to beat an incumbent," Ahern concedes, "but I'll tell you one thing. Ted Kennedy is afraid of me."
"Ted Kennedy!" snorts Earl V. "Black Jack" Stevens from the next booth. "how much money has he raised? I've aleady got $18 million in my candidates, including John Connally."
Candidate Stevens (Ind.-Mo.) is the publisher of the National C. B. Truckers' News and of American Truck Trader. He is described as a "legendary trucker." As a matter of fact, he is running on his record, is this case a 45 rmp disc called "The Legend of Black Jack Stevens." He wants to raise the speed limit to 70 miles per hour and to bring back prayer in the schools.
Not all candidates are fortunate enough to have Frank Ahern's experience or Black Jack's millions. Some of them, like Melvin Thacker of Crossville, Ala., the Gasohol Candidate, were more or less drafted by public opinion. "I've done a little bit of scoutin' around," says Thacker, "and they was a number of people that had talked to me and said we need a man like you in Washington." John M. Graham of Fort Smith, Ark., decided to run when customners at his restaurant challenged him to "do something." Graham formed the Little People's Party, Inc., and as its candidate he is appropriately small, though not, as he was billed, an actual midget.
John Haag of Venice, Calif., is one of the original founders of the Peace and Freedom Party, which ran Dr. Benjamin Spock as its candidate in 1972, and four years before sponsored Eldridge Cleaver. Haag, however, is running as an independent, claiming that his party has fallen into the hands of "feminist socialists -- and I don't even know what that means."
Donald Badgely (Ind.-N.Y.), is the tallest and most striking of the candidates, with his long, white hair and Old Testament beard. He is one of several God-directed aspirants, and he wages his campaign primarily on Greyhound buses. He has traveled over 26,000 miles so far, carrying a 100-year-old shepherd's crook which he calls his "campaign staff." Twenty minutes after he seized the podium it was easy to imagine what it would be like to sit next to the "Modern Moses" on one of his cross-country bus trips. l
Another bus rider is Charlie Reinert, an independent who rode for three days from Grover City, Calif., to attend the convention in Atlata. "I think our elected officials, after they've been in there, they could care less about what they do," says candidate Reinert. "I think if myself, or someone like myself, could get in there by a twist of fate or God's wishes, we could get this country back on its feet."
Reinert, who is running on a dare, is financing his campaign from Social Security disability payments. He got his disability from falling on his head.
The Social Security system itself came under attack from James Montgomery (Ind.-Mo.), a sprightly Wally Cox figure in a blue suit and jogging shoes, who is waging a lonely campaign against the authority of the Socialk Security Administrations to have a person declared incompetent. "Several people that I know have been taken," the former employe of the Rex Casket Co. of Webb City, Mo., declares darkly.
Montegomery was accompanied by his running mate, Leo Suiter, a country music singer from Dothan, Ala., who wants to repeal the Federal Reserve Act. They got together when Suiter responded to an ad placed by the candidate in the Music City News.
"This convention is the greatest thing that ever happened to us," Montgomery exulted. "All the candidates have a lot of good qualities and a lot of good ideas, but I was kinda suprised that a great many don't have vice presidents yet."
Edward McDowell, the only black candidate to appear at the convention, is running as a Republican from New York. He says he has been planning this race since he was 15. A former resident of Washington, D. C. he was the only candidate to propose representation for the District. "I was there a few weeks ago," he says. "Why you can't even walk down the street. That's one of the reasons I'm running to cut out these illegal things in the District, like prostitution and drugs. People in the federal government are covering these things up."
McDowell claims proudly that he is a former employe of The Washington Post, having worked with this organization for a brief time as a security guard.
While the other candidates were suffering impatiently for a crack at the microphone before the television crews all departed, one of them hung back in the darkness, drinking a Coke and laughing quietly to himself. He wasn't seeking publicity, he said, since he had just gotten out of a mental hospital.
"Actually, I'm a surrogate candidate," he confided. "I represent someone else."
The other person was revealed only as "The Entrepreneur known to blacks as The Robber."
"I have great faith in this guy," the surrogate said delightedly. "I call him every night at 2 a.m. and he tells me what to do."
By midafternoon most of the press had gone to file their stories, the delegates had tired of the speeches, and even some to the candidates had gotten disgusted and left.
Organizer Belluso claimed to be "very happy. It went way beyond my expectations." As a matter of fact, he plans to put the Kook Convention on tour. "We're going to give this country Kook Fever."
The candidates who were still hanging around seemed to be quite pleased. In many states, points out Black Jack Stevens, publicity can help get candidates on the ballot. "I think you'll see this thing grow," he says. "We got some good prospects and some good ideas. I know we got some good patriots. Unless I'm badly mistaken, I think we're going to see a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate come out of this convention. I seriously think we can take the government back this election." c
On the podium, the master of ceremonies was calling the names of candidates.
But the final speakers had disappeared."I dont know what to do," he confessed. "I don't know what to doe an evening session, count the votes or what?"
"I don't know about you," said a voice in the back, "but I'm going to see how we did on television."
"Oh, right. Meeting adjourned."