Mom's run for 42nd is a tribute to her Nicky

November 09, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

The Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq - and its awful handling of the war - was the dominant force in this week's congressional elections, and the wave of voter dissatisfaction splashed against governor races, including Maryland's. But beyond that, it's hard to imagine the war as a factor in any state or local election.

Except for the one in Baltimore County's 42nd District.

The war isn't why Tracy Miller voted against Republicans. It's why she ran against them. And not as protest, but as a tribute to her son.

Her son - her Nicky - had inspired Tracy Miller.

Nicholas Ziolkowski had in his bones a desire to serve others, which led him to start planning for the military while he was still a student at Boys' Latin. He enlisted the day after high school graduation. The Marine Corps assigned him to the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 2nd Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

"He loved his country more than any person I know that age," said Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell, who was Ziolkowski's history teacher at BL.

Ziolkowski became a team leader and scout sniper in Iraq.

He was killed two years ago this month in Fallujah, his enthusiastic spirit dashed at the age of 22.

Running for public office is his mother's way of extending and honoring her son's commitment to serve.

"I want the passion that Nick had for life and for the Marines to imbue everything I do," Tracy Miller said last year after she filed her candidacy, as a Democrat, for the Maryland House of Delegates. "I go through every day thinking, `What would he approve of?' and I think he would approve of this. I'm trying to make a difference in his honor."

She's close - very close - to reaching her goal.

A political novice from Towson, Miller finished in the top three among seven candidates for three 42nd District seats. Her lead over the fourth-place finisher, a Republican incumbent, is only seven votes. The counting of absentee ballots begins today.

There's no guarantee Miller will survive the absentee count, but still, pulling 16,559 votes in her rookie run for a legislative seat is impressive. Here's a woman defying the cynical and the jaded who view darkly a life of public service through government or elected office.

Miller teaches a course in American studies at Towson University, and she tries to leave her young students with the firm belief that they can change the world.

And maybe the teacher wants to practice what she teaches.

"I wanted to do something that honored Nick, that honored his sacrifice," she said yesterday at her office in Towson. "I wasn't about to join the Marine Corps, not that they'd want me. I thought about Congress, because it has more to do with the war. But I have no business running for Congress."

She had been to Annapolis a few times, helping the League of Women Voters and the Baltimore-based Citizens Planning and Housing Association in their legislative endeavors. "And I thought, `I can do this, I'd be good at it,'" Miller says.

She spoke to state Sen. Jim Brochin, the 42nd District incumbent, about her possible candidacy for a House seat. Brochin gave a sobering assessment. "He said," Miller recalls, "`that it was very hard, and that I'd have to give my life over to it, and that I'd have to raise money, and that I'd probably hate it.'"

She jumped in with both feet.

She worked the phones, wrote letters, campaigned door to door, organized a couple of fundraisers, asked old friends from her son's BL days for help, and got some of her Towson co-workers involved. She hit the campaign circuit, appearing at candidate forums.

Her son's - her Nicky's - death in Iraq would come up at the forums. Or voters might mention it as she campaigned. Some mentioned it on Election Day.

"I told people they shouldn't vote for me because they feel sorry for me," Miller says. "That's not what this was about. I was running to honor my son - and I was running for my granddaughter." Miller's other son, Peter Ziolkowski, has a 2-year-old daughter named Madelyn.

"I'm running because of her, too," Miller says. "I want there to be good public schools for her, and good playgrounds and parks for her to play in. And I want her and all other children to have health insurance, and I want her to be able to afford housing some day."

I think her son - her Nicky - would approve.

Hear Dan Rodricks Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WBAL Radio (1090 AM) and read his blog at

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