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This Army Stamps, Staples, Folds, Stuffs. And Loves It

October 25, 1996

WHEATON, Md. (AP) _ It’ll take about 20 minutes, but Alan Laskin can tell you in loving detail how to get 23,000 political leaflets handed out to shoppers outside 23 supermarkets on the weekend before the election.

You sweet talk the store managers for permission. Then you appoint 23 ``flyer managers.″

``Give people a fancy title and they can’t say no,″ he says.

You telephone them every other day, to make sure they are still aboard, to see that they have recruited and kept in touch with their leafleteers. You sweat the details.

That is the way democracy works: tens of thousands of volunteers doing the drudge work of politics. Volunteers like Laskin, who has labored since June, 12 hours a day, for a Democrat in a congressional campaign that the soothsayers put down as hopeless.

Grass-roots politics is canvassing and coffees, lawn signs and leaflet drops, phone banks and envelope stuffing, standing on the curb waving a sign or handing out flyers at the bus stop.

Laskin, 49, a former accountant who retired after being stricken by leukemia, is a political junkie. He remembers sitting on a Massachusetts beach, crying his heart out, after an election a quarter of a century ago when his candidate lost.

Wayne Finegar, 65, a retired Social Security statistician, another volunteer, talks about what would seem to be a simple enough chore: getting a stack of the candidate’s leaflets to each of the county’s 20 branch libraries and watching for when they’re gone and need to be replaced.

``Hideously complicated,″ sighs Finegar, who describes the task with the same exactness that Laskin uses in laying out his supermarket strategy.

Let the candidates talk of lofty issues. Here in a cramped second-story office where the phones never stop ringing, the talk is of checking computer lists against addressed envelopes, of working a phone bank in a borrowed travel agent’s office.

Volunteer Marie Ferington, 70, a grey-haired grandmother in blue jeans, is a retired high school teacher of German. She appears at the candidate’s headquarters every morning about 7. First she vacuums. Then she photocopies. She faxes. She pulls messages off the answering machine.

Then she goes home to supervise friends recruited to stuff envelopes around her dining room table. Into the night, she and her volunteers fold, stuff, stamp and address.

Laskin, Ms. Ferington and Finegar are among 1,600 volunteers working for Democrat Don Mooers, 36, who resigned his State Department job to run for Congress.

Unfortunately for him, his opponent is Connie Morella, a moderate Republican who has represented affluent, politically astute Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C., for 10 years.

She is one of those lucky politicians, so known that everybody calls her by their first name.

``I’ve voted for Connie,″ admits Ms. Ferington, without blushing. ``She’s a very, very nice lady.″

It was the Gingrich Congress that brought Ms. Ferington to Mooers. She was furious about the shutdown of government last winter. And Connie signed the GOP’s ``Contract with America.″ That was enough.

That led Ms. Ferington to give a coffee in her home for Mooers, led her to walk her neighborhood with him, led her to recruit more volunteers.

She knows how to make a yard sign and carries a little sledgehammer to drive them in the lawn. But first the home owners’ permission must be secured. Other volunteers do that. Call, make a list, and send volunteers to the house to drive in the sign. Like D-Day, nothing’s simple.

Running this operation is 26-year-old Steve Neill, one of the few paid workers in this campaign ($375 a week initially, now $500).

Neill often works so late, he says, that he listens to morning drive-time radio en route home for nap and shower. Between campaigns, he likes to do physical work, like selling Christmas trees.

He says he took one day off the job this summer and went to the beach. But he did not enjoy himself. He felt guilty.

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