An 11-year-old Montgomery County girl, told last month she could not attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll because she had spoken out for Walter Mondale, received a special invitation to attend during a telephone call from Nancy Reagan yesterday.
Jennifer Ledbetter, a sixth-grade student at St. Peter's School in Olney, was chastised last Oct. 9 after she told a Baltimore Sun reporter at a Reagan rally in Baltimore the day before that she had "great respect for the presidency" but supported the Democratic presidential nominee. Ledbetter was with a group of St. Peter's children who had gone to the rally to sing the national anthem.
The girl's father, Joseph Ledbetter, said he received a telephone call from the Reagan-Bush campaign worker who organized the children's trip to the rally. He said the campaign worker, Terry Gaidis, manager of the campaign's Silver Spring office, complained that his daughter's comment had been "an embarrassment," and that she would not be invited on a trip with other children to the annual Easter Monday egg roll at the White House.
Gaidis could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Jennifer Ledbetter said she is "excited" about her brief conversation with Nancy Reagan yesterday afternoon, and plans to attend the egg roll. Talking to the president's wife has "changed things a little," she said, but she still favors Mondale. "I just thought he was the better guy for the job," she said, citing the threat of nuclear war as her main concern.
In an interview earlier in the day, Ledbetter said she did not think the egg roll was especially important, "but I wanted to try to go. I want that [campaign worker] to try to understand that it is my freedom of speech, and it's my opinion, and I told the reporter that I didn't have any problem with singing the national anthem. So I don't know why she had to huff and puff about it."
Joseph Ledbetter said both he and his wife are Reagan supporters. His daughter "came up with her own conclusion," he said. In the end, Ledbetter said his wife voted for Reagan but he decided to vote for Mondale, for his daughter's sake, "so she could let her voice be heard."
Nancy Reagan's press secretary Sheila Tate said the first lady telephoned Ledbetter after reading a story on Jennifer in yesterday's Baltimore Sun. "She called the little girl and told her how sorry she was to read that this had happened," Tate said, and "if Jennifer wanted to come to the Easter egg roll, she wanted her to come as her special guest."
Tate said the Easter egg roll is meant to be a nonpartisan affair, normally reserved for any child eight years or younger who turns up at the White House gates with an accompanying adult. Although no plans have been made yet, Tate said, "we'll be sure Jennifer has a day she doesn't forget."
Joseph Ledbetter said he, too, thinks the whole business has become "pretty exciting . . . . I think it's good that [Jennifer] knows that the people in the White House don't feel the same way as some of the people who work for them do. I'm very happy for her."