She's running to change the world

November 09, 2006|By C. Fraser Smith

Like many other races in this election year, Tracy Miller's rose on the winds of war.

She ran for the House of Delegates from the 42nd District with a cause. She ran as an exercise in citizenship - and as an opponent of the war in Iraq. She opposed the war, but there was much more than that.

Her son, Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski, a Marine sniper, was killed Nov. 14, 2004, during the battle of Fallujah.

Without the war - or Nick's death - she almost certainly would not have been a candidate for public office. Without growing opposition to the war, the issue that dominated political races across the country and in Maryland, she might not have been successful.

After the votes were counted Tuesday, she held a lead of just seven votes over a veteran Republican legislator, William J. Frank, who might otherwise have won re-election with ease. Ms. Miller, a Democrat, had gotten 16,559 votes, to 16,552 for Mr. Frank. The winner will be decided after the counting of absentee ballots that begins today.

Many other races across the country were decided in the context of the war.

Control of the House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate shifted to the Democrats largely on the feeling that Mr. Bush and his party had taken the nation into an ill-conceived war and then managed it badly. Yesterday, in the wake of the political setback, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned.

In Rhode Island, the Republican label alone seems to have doomed Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a popular politician whose father was a U.S. senator before him. Mr. Chafee opposed the war. He also opposes President Bush - but he lost his re-election bid because the voters wanted to deny Mr. Bush and the Republicans a majority in the Senate.

In Maryland, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele was unable to shed his GOP identification and lost his Senate race with Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a race in which the war was a major issue. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lost his re-election battle in part because of a monumental anti-war turnout on Election Day. Mr. Ehrlich ran with a good job approval rating, but it was not enough to counter a flood tide of anti-war and anti-Bush votes.

Tracy Miller sailed toward victory in her Baltimore County legislative district on that same tide.

She has heard there are more Democratic than Republican absentee ballots in play. Some people she spoke to during the campaign said they had voted for by her absentee.

A fair number knew of her through news stories about her son. A new athletic facility was inaugurated under his name recently at Boys' Latin School.

It's out of her hands now. No more door knocking. No more calls to raise money. No more mailings or campaigning of any kind. Just waiting.

She's elated at the possibility of her long-shot success but reluctant to think the race is won until the votes are counted. And, because we are in the anniversary month of Nick's death, she thinks more often of him.

From the day of his induction to his deployment to Iraq, she had lived with the fear any mother or father would have - and she struggled with the reality of her opposition to the war, even as her son seemed eager to fight.

He had joined the Marines after graduating from Boys' Latin. His mother wasn't happy, but she wasn't surprised. A strikingly handsome young man, tall and chiseled like the Marine Corps recruiting poster images, he had made his intentions clear.

Almost clear. She learned more about her son after he enlisted. She called him on New Year's Eve, 2003.

"I told him my wish was for peace everywhere. And he said, `Me too.' I said, `I'm surprised.' And he said, `No, I want there to be peace, but if there's war anywhere, I want in on it. This is my job. This is what I'm trained to do.'"

Tracy Miller's job was teaching young college students English and American studies at Towson University.

"I try to make them understand that they can change the world. I decided to listen to myself," she says.

So she ran - and won whatever the absentee count reveals.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column usually runs Sundays. His e-mail is fsmith@wypr.org.

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