Chris Craver may go down in Fairfax County history as the whiz kid who brought grade school politics into the high-tech age with his direct-mail campaign for student body president. But it was an old-fashioned backroom deal yesterday that vaulted the 10-year-old into power at Chesterbrook Elementary School.
When the ballots were counted after the McLean elementary school's student elections yesterday, only one vote in the 300 cast separated Chris and 10-year-old opponent Marili Uno.
With the contest heartbreakingly close, the current student officers and Principal Betsy Keahey huddled in Keahey's office and crafted a compromise: a co-presidency, with both students sharing Chesterbrook's top political prize.
"It was too close to call," said Keahey, who, like many Chesterbrook parents and students, expressed concern that publicity about Chris' sophisticated campaign techniques in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post may have skewed the election.
Chris apparently borrowed his election strategy -- mailing campaign appeals to the homes of eligible voters -- from his father, Roger Craver, a prominent direct-mail fund-raising wizard for the national Democratic Party and a variety of liberal groups.
Chris' campaign manager was Paul Thurmond, son of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), one of the most conservative members of Congress.
Although the election compromise left both parties satisfied, the escalation of the elementary school campaign tactics has prompted Keahey to begin drafting a new campaign ethics rules to avoid a potential Chestergate.
By sending the direct-mail appeal, Chris had violated an unwritten school policy that no money be spent on campaigns. In the future, Keahey said, a written policy restricting political pamphleteering to two posters and an unlimited number of paper campaign buttons will be enforced.
While Chris and Marili professed delight with the election accord, Keahey and other school officials scurried to contain the damage resulting from rhetoric made during the heat of the campaign.
Keahey sharply criticized Chris' allegation that a cockroach had been found on a slice of pizza in the school cafeteria: "This has never happened when I've been here . . . . We have one of the cleanest schools in the county -- bar none."
Asked to document the charge, Chris acknowledged yesterday that he had heard rumors of a cockroach incident several years ago and could not confirm the accuracy of the reports.
But Chris' retreat came too late for officials of the Fairfax County Health Department and several Chesterbrook parents who phoned Keahey demanding assurances of the school's sanitary standards, the principal said.
Meanwhile, the new co-presidents said progress already is being made on the other major complaint against Chesterbrook's food service: the lack of variety. Perhaps in part from campaign publicity, Chris and Marili said, the cafeteria has agreed to serve chocolate milk and allow students to plan the menu once each semester.
"We've been talking a lot about what you can do with the food, and that there are some things we can never do," said Marili. "You can't have lobster every day."