By MEGHA RAJAGOPALAN, Capital News Service
BALTIMORE - Decades before Ed Boyd became the Green Party candidate for governor, he washed dishes at a restaurant in Miami.
Boyd, then a high school senior, remembers that all of his fellow dishwashers were black or Hispanic. The waiters, who were all white, would pelt the dishwashers with insults and racial slurs, says Boyd, who is an African American.
So 17-year-old Boyd, the youngest employee, organized the dishwashers and led a strike.
"I said, 'We're not going to take this anymore,'" Boyd says. "We refused to work until we got the respect we deserved."
After meeting with Boyd, the restaurant's owner made the waiters apologize to the dishwashers and promoted the young strike-leader, giving him full responsibility for the salad bar.
That was in 1978. Now, the 45-year-old says it is the same ethic - a desire to stand up for society's underdogs - that has driven him into Maryland's governor's race.
He's an underdog himself - and he's accustomed to it. Between growing up poor, losing his job, struggling with drug and alcohol addictions and becoming homeless, Boyd is no stranger to obstacles. But now, after finding a job in Baltimore and establishing some stability in life, he's decided he wants to become governor.
It's a long shot. Boyd's campaign has raised less than $5,000, mostly from individual donors. According to a poll released Wednesday by The Baltimore Sun, Boyd has the support of only 2 percent of likely voters.
Like all third party candidates, he's dogged by the perpetual question - why run when it's almost impossible to win?
For Boyd, winning isn't the point.
"Why not run?" he says. "Someone has to speak for the people that are not being spoken for - the working poor, people who are illegally arrested, the kids who can't get a decent education. Someone has to speak for them."
Boyd says neither of the two major party candidates - Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich or Democrat Martin O'Malley, the mayor of Baltimore - are looking out for the poor. They are tied to corporate interests, he says.
"I run because I am angry at the two-party system," he says. "I see them as a two-headed monster. They say two different things, but they eat from the same trough - big business and special interest groups. It's disgusting."
Boyd says his ideas of fighting for "the little guy" come from his childhood. While he was growing up in Liberty City, a low-income neighborhood in Miami. Boyd says his father was fired from a job cleaning cars for a rental car company after he tried to organize the other workers into a union.
Boyd was a shy child who mostly kept to himself, says his mother, Josephine Jenkins Boyd Brown, a retired nurse aid. But when a bully picked on his younger step-brother, Boyd stepped in and fought the older boy off himself.
"He was always like that, trying to help other people," said Brown, 68.
After high school, Boyd enlisted in the Navy and was demoted because, he says, he got into a fight with a supervisor who shouted a racial slur at him while drunk. After leaving the service in 1987, he moved to Washington and began selling construction equipment.
Boyd then began abusing drugs and alcohol in an effort to "fight personal demons," he says.
"I had to have a drink to get through any situation," he says. "That's the only way I knew how to deal with it, and soon after, drinking wasn't enough. I needed something stronger."
He was laid off from his job. Soon after, Boyd's money ran out and he ended up sleeping at a homeless shelter he used to pass every day on his way to work.
"I used to try to race by there so I wouldn't have to stop and look at the homeless people," Boyd says. "I thought I was above them, but then I was one of them."
He stayed at the shelter for about two years, but eventually began volunteering as its kitchen manager. His experience there sparked an interest in politics, he says.
The shelter, which was run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a Washington non-profit organization that provides food, shelter and some medical care to homeless people, was also involved in political advocacy for the homeless.
Carol Fennelly, 57, then the organization's director, recalls Boyd fondly.
"Thousands of people came through as volunteers for our organization," she says. "That's why it's so incredible that he stands out to me as one of those thousands." She and Boyd have dinner plans at the governor's mansion after the election.
Boyd says being homeless and struggling with addiction drew him to the Green Party, which he says stands up for minorities and poor people over the interests of big business.
"Big business does not want anything to do with regular people other than wanting us to work for them," he says.
The campaign hasn't taken - or been offered - any money from large corporations, political action committees or unions, Boyd's running mate, James Madigan, says proudly. Their biggest donor so far was a libertarian, who gave $100.
"He said, 'I'm not going to vote for you but I believe in your politics,'" Boyd said.
Boyd now runs the Baltimore branch of a small temporary employment agency. After a stay at a rehabilitation clinic four years ago, he says he's kicked his drug and alcohol addictions. He now lives alone in an apartment in Mount Vernon.
But the new stability in his life isn't enough - he wants to make it to the governor's mansion. He doesn't have much time or money to campaign, but he and his running mate try to go to forums and pass out fliers on street corners at least once a week. The reaction, he says, has been mostly positive.
"People know I'm just like them," he says. "I am them. Anyone can relate to me. I know what it feels like to have doors slammed in your face."
Indeed, Boyd sees the obstacles he has faced in his life not as blemishes, but badges of honor. "After the election is over, it still goes on," he says. "The struggle will continue. We'll still have issues that need to be addressed and someone needs to make that happen."