A political rookie manages fine

18-year-old gets her feet wet running the campaign of Carroll commissioner

September 03, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Amanda Dell is an award-winning public speaker who has known for years that she wants to make her living in politics. But she was shocked when Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a distant cousin whom she knew mainly through hunting foxes on his land, asked her to manage his re-election campaign.

After all, she's only 18.

"I didn't want any of my actions to hurt him," said the University of Maryland freshman. "I'm just a kid, and I don't know what I'm talking about."

Two months later, Donald Dell, 77, doesn't regret drafting an unusually young campaign manager.

"She's done a darn fine job," he said.

Amanda doesn't form strategy for the commissioner's campaign, but she does spend late nights hunched over the computer she bought for college, banging out text for campaign fliers or preparing hundreds of invitations for a pig roast fund-raiser. And though she's never even voted, she's capable of sounding like a seasoned spokeswoman.

"I don't necessarily agree with every single thing the commissioners do, but Donald, whether he's wrong or whether he's right, makes a decision and sticks to it," she said during a recent interview. "As long as he makes a decision, I can appreciate him."

Amanda caught the political bug during her 2000-2001 stint as Carroll County Farm Queen, when she spent days learning agricultural economics from farmers and policy-makers. She learned how farmers suffer during droughts such as the one Maryland has endured. She decided she could be their voice in battles for federal dollars, lobbying on Capitol Hill. The Francis Scott Key High graduate will pursue that goal at College Park, where she'll major in agriculture with a focus on policy.

Then, this summer, she received a strange message -- Commissioner Donald Dell wanted to see her. Dell, whom she considered an acquaintance, told her she'd just popped into his head while he was assembling his campaign team.

"She's an attractive person and very outgoing, so I thought she'd really be able to get the ball rolling," he said. "And I knew she was interested in politics, so I thought the experience might help her."

Though she balked at first, Amanda agreed that the experience would fit her goals. So she finished her week at camp and that Saturday sat with Dell in his living room and plotted the weeks ahead. He gave her a large stack of papers, including a list of his accomplishments and the names of likely supporters, and he told her she'd be responsible for writing any campaign materials and organizing his pig roast fund-raiser.

Fellow campaign workers offer nothing but praise.

"She's just a very nice young lady, and she's working very hard on the campaign," said John Harner, a Taneytown farmer and member of Dell's campaign committee. "She comes up with a lot of good ideas."

Dell did not require that she rewrite his campaign fliers, last used in 1998, but Amanda felt they needed updating. She slogged through a 720-person mailing list and typed invitations for the pig roast. And she's just put the finishing touches on the text for radio and newspaper advertisements.

She's still learning some facets of the job, such as being careful when responding to criticisms of her candidate. "I have to keep myself to the back sometimes, because I have a tendency to open my mouth," she said.

With the primary now little more than a week away, Amanda Dell has had quite a summer -- not that she thinks it's been tough.

"It really hasn't been a big deal," she said. "I'm good at balancing my life."

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