A peaked and somewhat woozy Aaron Kraus chomped into a roast beef sandwich as church bells near the State House in Annapolis signaled the noon hour yesterday, ending the hunger strike he had started more than two days earlier.
The slender, 21-year-old incoming president of the University of Maryland Student Government Association told reporters in between bites of the six-inch Subway sandwich that his 50-hour protest of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of a bill that would have increased funding for state universities had received enough attention.
Plus, he was hungry.
Moments before, House Speaker Michael E. Busch's chief of staff had handed him a letter signed by Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) in which they praised his "commitment to affordable and accessible higher education in Maryland."
"You have certainly done your part to raise public awareness of rising tuition costs," the lawmakers wrote.
Smiling, Kraus put down the letter and went for the sandwich.
"I think we accomplished our goal," he said after taking a large bite. "We were able to get this into the media, which made it a public dialogue." Up next, he said, was a nap, a meal or two, and then onto a campaign to lobby the votes needed to override the governor's veto in the next legislative session.
As hunger strikes go, this one hardly set any records. Last year, for example, six Stanford University students didn't eat for a week to protest the treatment of university employees. An inmate at a Washington prison reportedly lived on just water and coffee for more than 100 days.
But Kraus's protest did attract a fair amount of attention, including the governor's. During his vigil outside the State House, Kraus chatted briefly with Ehrlich (R), who was polite but unyielding on his veto decision. And Ehrlich offered to let him stay in the governor's mansion if he didn't want to sleep outside in the rain.
Thirty to 40 of the state's delegates and senators stopped by to say they supported his position, Kraus said. But many of them also urged him to eat and not jeopardize his health, he said.
By yesterday afternoon, Kraus weighed in at 116 pounds, a good bit below his normal weight but still a healthy average for his height, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kraus is 5 feet 6 inches. ("Well, I'm really 5-6 and a half," he said. "But only short people count fractions.")
By midday, he was ravenous. His stomach felt as though it was filled with a boulder, he said, and his head with nothing but air. "I'm starting to feel really rotten. And I smell really bad."
But he perked up after devouring the sandwich and a bag of Doritos. Then he went to lunch with friends at an Annapolis crab restaurant and ate until he was full.
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.