WASHINGTON – Most people can tell you where they were on Nov. 22, 1963, and Stephen Crawford is no exception.
A student at Cornell University, Crawford was planning to celebrate his 21st birthday with friends. Then he heard the sobering news that President Kennedy had been killed.
Crawford canceled the party. The varsity runner walked alone to a spot behind the university’s agriculture school to do some thinking. “I decided then and there that I wanted to do whatever I could to help my country,” he said.
He made good on that commitment by serving in Vietnam and later working as a college teacher and assistant dean.
He would like to serve in Congress.
This March, in a second attempt to secure the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s 6th District seat, Crawford won his primary and the chance to challenge two-term Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in November.
He believes he can do more than nip at the heels of Bartlett, whom he called an arch-conservative.
“The congressman is good at symbolic politics, [the idea being] if you can’t produce what the people need, distract them with hot-button issues,” Crawford said.
But, Crawford said, “government should not be run by anti- government people, but by people who understand that, done right, government can help.”
Crawford calls himself a “blue dog” or moderate Democrat. He wants to balance the budget but protect jobs, the environment, senior citizens and health care. He said securing educational opportunities, such as Head Start for young children and college loans, should be a priority.
Bartlett, R-Frederick, said some of Crawford’s objectives are unrealistic. “It’s an oxymoron to say you are a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. You’ve got to pay for those programs somehow.”
Born in Doylestown, Pa., Crawford’s father was a banker and farmer. His mother was an ardent supporter of President Eisenhower. Crawford remembers campaigning for “Ike” with her when he was 6.
Although they are lifelong Republicans, Crawford’s parents support his quest as a Democrat for a House seat. Crawford has taken his own path, but not a rebellious one.
Instead of protesting the war in Vietnam, the Cornell graduate joined the Army. Within a year he was at Officer’s Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga.
The young lieutenant volunteered for combat duty and spent part of his tour as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army.
He spent the rest as an infantry officer in the Mekong Delta. He received a Bronze Star for meritorious service and a Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star – the South Vietnamese army’s second highest decoration for valor – for rallying his platoon to victory under fire in a rice paddy.
Three days after leaving Vietnam, Crawford enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where he received a master’s degree in government administration and stayed on as assistant dean.
“I was seriously concerned about some questions of public policy,” Crawford said. “The war left me feeling we’d made some serious mistakes.” He said 59,000 young Americans had died, “and what did we get for it?”
Looking for answers, he went back to school, part-time, and earned a doctorate in sociology at Columbia University. His dissertation, published by Cambridge University Press, examined the effects of a technologically advancing society on the lives of workers.
Crawford said he sees big government and the global economy eroding a sense of community. He’d like to see people have more time and energy to invest in their neighborhoods and families.
“Too often tax cuts come to benefit the people at the top and inequality is growing,” he said.
He sees telecommuting centers, like the one at Hagerstown Junior College, as one way to gain efficiency and put time back into the community.
When he was working as executive director of the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland, Crawford spent about three hours a day commuting between Frederick and College Park. Now on leave, he spends as much time in his ’80s vintage Chevy Nova – with 160,000 miles on it – on the campaign trail. His consulting business is on hold.
He still keeps two nights a week free to spend with his wife, Liliane Floge, who works long days as associate provost at Gettysburg College.
Crawford said he’d like to see House terms extended from two years to four so members would not spend so much time running for office and raising money. He said he’d pledge not to serve more than eight years.
Crawford estimated he will have to bring in an average of $1,000 a day just to print and mail campaign materials. “It takes an obscene amount of money to run for Congress,” he said.
He raised $24,181 in contributions between Jan. 1 and March 7, to Bartlett’s $7,088, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
But Crawford’s $26,946 in the bank on Feb. 14 was still well below the $70,201 Bartlett’s campaign reported.
David Paulsen, director of communications for the Maryland Democratic Party, said Crawford has an uphill battle to win the general election. “But Steve’s got a lot of energy,” he said.
“Once he’s able to point out his philosophy and Bartlett’s track record, people will see it’s a choice between a dinosaur idealogue and someone who can do more for the district.”
“All that is required is to convince the voters,” Bartlett said.
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