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Obama 'ignited' delegate's passions

For Cheryl Miller, the Obama candidacy rekindled a passion buried long ago.

An Anne Arundel County native who studied political science in college, Miller, 55, said she became "disenchanted" with public service after working briefly with the U.S. Conference of Mayors after graduation.

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"When we were in college, everybody wanted to save the world," she said in a recent interview. "Then you graduate, and you start understanding how hard that is."

Working on programs in Los Angeles, Miller became frustrated because "the people that I wanted to help the most were the hardest to get to."

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So she moved on, putting her career on hold after getting married and moving around the globe with her husband, an executive with Washington Gas, and two children. The family has lived in Connecticut, California and South Africa before settling in Annapolis.

She and her husband invested in commercial real estate, and she launched a small home-based event planning business.

Miller first became aware of Obama during the 2004 Democratic Convention, when he delivered the keynote speech. Watching from home, she was intrigued. Obama "ignited something that was dead in me," she said.

But it was the words of a friend that triggered her intense involvement in the Obama campaign.

She was invited to a local fund-raiser event in fall 2007 by a host who told her: "I don't know what is going to happen with this guy, but there is something special about him. We cannot allow him to look bad. We cannot allow him to go unsupported."It was before the Obama candidacy had taken off, and Hillary Clinton was riding high in polls. "The thinking was Hillary Clinton was going to have all this money," Miller said. "He did not deserve to look embarassed."

The words resonated, and after the fund-raising event, Miller dove in.

She and her husband turned space in a commercial building they own on Ritchie Highway into the Anne Arundel volunteer headquarters for the Obama campaign.

The space buzzed with activity, with weekly meetings, phone-banking and voter registration. It was also a forum for passionate discussions on race and other hot-button topics.

"People would ask questions they didn't know how to ask," she said. "We talked to each other about our feelings and our issues." The Obama campaign, Miller said, has created "the truest diversity I have ever known."

During major events, such as the Super Tuesday primaries, Miller would make food for the crowd. "We're like a family," she said.

The commitment of Miller and her husband drew the attention of Obama's top supporters in Maryland.

Her name wasn't on the ballot Feb. 12, when 46 of Maryland's 99 Democratic convention delegates were selected by primary voters. She was chosen later as one of 15 "pledged at-large add-on delegates" at a state party meeting in May.

This will be Miller's first convention, and she's taking it seriously. She's not going to Denver to wear funny hats and attend parties.

"I look at this as hard work," she said. "I look at this as a huge responsibility."

-- David Nitkin

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