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Tag-Along Brother Finishes Ahead of the Political Field

November 06, 1986|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when I visited my younger brother in Washington, we got together for large political demonstrations or marches--occasionally followed by tear gas, running through the streets and jail.

This fall I visited the East Coast once again. There were banners and buttons, but this time they had my brother's name on them. He was a candidate for the legislature in a state that still calls its lower house by an archaic name from Revolutionary times. Maryland's House of Delegates was already in session when Father Junipero Serra was founding missions in California. Compared to the $500,000 spent on an average legislative campaign these days in California, my brother's budget was only $20,000.

I came to the campaign as a late-innings volunteer--a foot soldier. It was something of a role reversal of our younger years, when this little kid used to follow me around, and I couldn't be bothered.

Among other tasks, I worked the phone bank for several nights, making those annoying calls that always seem to come at dinner time or during a favorite television program, explaining what a great guy The Candidate is. On Election Day I drove people to the polls.

If your last name is not a particularly common one, and ours is not, it comes as a small shock to see it in large type on so many posters and bumper stickers. And, if you bear any resemblance to the picture on the literature, as I do, it is a little odd to be mistaken for The Candidate when handing out his material at a supermarket.

We are alike in many ways and different in others. He has the advantage in height and waistline; I have him on hairline, so far. Along the walls of his basement, where I camped on the floor during the final days of the campaign, were the passionate and hard-edged books of our college years. Above them were photos of us together--in long hair, headbands and baggy blue jeans--next to political posters of more recent vintage. Not surprisingly, the setting and the circumstances provoked some retrospective musing.

In his touching, affecting novel of sibling rivalry, "Second Brother," David Guy writes: "I think the first son . . . bears the burdens and hopes and responsibilities of the family, that he meets life head on, develops earlier than the other children."

Our Differences

Because of the three-year age difference between us, and my parents' decision to send my brother to a private, Quaker high school, we never really competed directly. Yet even in late adolescence, I felt our parents' expectations of my brother were not equal to those they had of me, and I thought this unfair to him. He far surpassed me as an athlete and his academic record at college and later at graduate school was demonstrably better than my own. His relationships with women were more honest and principled than mine.

It was not until our college years, when we got together for demonstrations, that we began to know one another as adults. Later we lived--not together--in the same Southern city where I went to school and settled, and I was pleased to see among his friends a number of people I liked but who couldn't stand me.

Sometime after graduation we made different choices: He does; I describe. Successful on my own terms, I always admired what he did. I wished for the same dedication and sense of purpose. As a teacher, coach, activist and organizer in a working-class community, his work seemed more consistent with our earlier ideals.

In his legislative district, where the primary is everything, my brother was challenging a slate of party regulars. At the outset, the odds were not in his favor: Voters were overwhelmingly Catholic and anti-abortion; he is Jewish and pro-choice. To be sure, his campaign literature was slick and professional. And to his credit, while the inflammatory rhetoric of 15 years ago was gone, the underlying social issues and economic concerns remained clear and constant. Nobody could accuse him of selling out.

As a reporter, I've covered and accurately handicapped U.S. Senate races in two states and half a dozen congressional contests, often spending less time on those scenes than I did in September working for my brother. Yet on the day of the primary election I had no inkling of his chances. All day long, he said he was going to win. A victory party, called by that name, was scheduled for the house and food was ordered.

At the Polls

My main task on Election Day was to pass out literature at one of the polls and to be my brother's official representative when the machines were opened and the results announced. My heart sank that night as I recorded the totals and sped to his house to report. I felt I had let him down, but when I told him the results from "my" precinct, he said not to worry. And he was right.

He concluded his victory statement with a familiar quote from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. . . . Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

I was happy and proud as his margin widened. Still, it was startling to see the admiration reflected in the eyes of his supporters, especially colleagues from the teachers' association he heads. When, exactly, did this essentially shy person become known as someone not afraid to speak truth to power? When did the stubbornness that used to bother me so much become tenacity, uncompromising integrity?

My brother, Paul, won the general election Tuesday. He has done well, and I am proud, unambiguously.

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