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Encino Teen a Fresh Face in California's Delegation

August 28, 1996|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHICAGO — When the network cameras pan the United Center in the coming nights to catch exuberant, sign-waving Democrats, look for Jennifer Stein and a small, red frog.

Stein, the youngest of California's 424 delegates, certainly takes her politics seriously. The 18-year-old Encino resident, in fact, considers her first political convention a springboard to bigger things.

But she is, after all, still a teenager. So Stein is scheming for a way to get some television exposure for the plastic good-luck charm slipped to her by a friend.

Stein is part of a diverse group at the Democratic National Convention. The party makes a point of trying to diversify its delegate pool, setting aside seats for African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, gays, lesbians and the disabled. No credentials, however, are reserved for young people and just four of the state's delegates are under 30.

Although young, Stein has grown up around politics. Her father, Ted Stein, has been a Los Angeles city commissioner and is now running for district attorney. She talks politics at the dinner table and has dabbled in it as a volunteer during summer vacations.

Now she finds herself in the middle of it.

With a delegate credential slung around her neck and an armload of paperwork, she certainly looks the part. Just like her older colleagues, she shuttles from reception to reception during the day and spends her evenings on the floor hooting for the cameras.

"The average person here is probably twice as old as me," she said. "We're from different generations."

Stein does have a little help in representing the youth vote. Iowa sent an even younger delegate to Chicago, Paul Kraus, who will turn 18--the minimum required age--before election day. The oldest delegate is 93-year-old Velma Jeter of Texas, who was already a senior citizen when Stein entered the world.

But Stein, a high school debate champ, does not appear intimidated. She says she won her delegate spot fair and square by producing makeshift campaign literature and buttons, and delivering a persuasive campaign speech in which she billed herself as a voice of the next generation. She earned one of five delegate spots in the 24th Congressional District, outdrawing 14 other women.

A Harvard-Westlake graduate who is off to Stanford University later this month, Stein considers delegate duty part of a long-range plan. She is already eyeing a congressional seat in 2000, just about the time she will graduate from college. And her friends have jokingly requested staff jobs when she goes to the White House one day.

"Abortion is one of my most important issues," she said. "No person, man or woman, back in Washington, D.C., should decide for a woman what to do with her body."

She has strong opinions on education, the environment and immigration, as well.

"If we were to get rid of all the illegal immigrants in Southern California, businesses would shut down everywhere," she said, criticizing the Proposition 187 ballot measure from 1994.

Every now and then, in between her policy pronouncements, Stein gives away her age.

After the late-night receptions, she said she calls her parents back home to let them know she is safe. She said her knowledge of Chicago, before this trip, came from the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." And in between real-life politicking, she said she works on her own private campaign--to get that red, plastic frog in front of the cameras.

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