The virgin candidate

CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A giant Betsy Ross-style flag is carried down Market Street during yesterday's Independence Day parade in Center City.
CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A giant Betsy Ross-style flag is carried down Market Street during yesterday's Independence Day parade in Center City.
Posted: July 05, 2013

INDEPENDENCE Mall was awash with red, white and blue yesterday, and covered with patriots. The one I wound up passing time with was a 65-year-old Philadelphia virgin who is the first announced 2016 presidential candidate.

An independent, Ed O'Donnell plans to run under the Patriot Party banner, which sparks a conversation about being a patriot: What it meant then and what it has come to mean today.

"Patriotism" has been captured (some say held hostage) by the political right, while it is minimalized (some say abandoned) by the political left.

I ask Ed to define what it means to be a patriot.

"In the ideals of our three founding documents, treating all people lovingly, despite their weaknesses or mistakes. It's a glorious concept." The founding documents he names are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

"They had different purposes, but all had three beautiful concepts, unique in world history," he says. "They said that all people should all be treated with love, kindness - this is the key - mercy, tolerance, forgiveness, civility and old-fashioned manners. And we've lost that. The point is, through Pollyanna rhetoric," he says, hooking a thumb toward Mayor Nutter speaking from the platform, "we've lost that."

Ed was part of Occupy Philadelphia and in the shadow of Independence Hall he's wearing shorts and a white T-shirt bearing the Chevrolet corporate logo. He gets most of his clothes secondhand.

He says he runs the Winthrop Foundation, a charity that distributes, food, clothing and toiletries to the homeless in 30th Street Station, Suburban Station and Market East.

Originally from Wilmington, Ed attended Friends High School there, which he laughingly acknowledges poured the cement for many of his leftist, lifelong views. His gray hair stands up like the feathers on an arrow, he has a sense of humor and looks like he must have been a babe magnet when he was younger.

Maybe he was, but he's a virgin.

"I believe in Christian virginity, celibacy and chastity," he says.

I'm thinking this has got to be the world's best pickup line, but he's serious. Channeling Jimmy Carter, he admits to occasional feelings of lust and he likes looking at young, thin, sexy women.

"I have an appreciation for sexy bodies, but I look but do not touch." He says we should teach kids that.

This is not part of his presidential platform - he has run before without success - so I ask about that. Since this is a column and not a news story, I get to comment.

First, treat everyone nicely. Sounds just like the Golden Rule.

Two: "No guns. Period." He just lost my vote.

Three: "No wars." It's that Quaker Friends thing. What if we're attacked?, I ask. "OK," he adjusts, "no offensive wars."

Four: Take $800 billion from charities' bank accounts and "use that money to create jobs for the unemployed, prostitutes, ex-cons, give them guaranteed jobs and guaranteed income."

Sounds great unless you happen to be a plundered charity. Does the government have a right to simply "take" money? He reconsiders. "Not take, persuade them" to give it up. I don't ask him what a no-war, no-gun government would do when the charities say "no."

Five: Mental-health courses in all schools "to teach people to think." We already have that, under the heading of philosophy or logic, but who takes those courses?

Six: "A nonviolent foreign policy based on feeding, clothing, housing and employing the entire Third World poor." Say hello to the Wizard for me when you get to Oz, Ed.

On July Fourth, Gallup released a poll saying that 85 percent of Americans are proud of America. Is Ed?

"No," he says. "There's systematic mistreatment of citizens every day" by the police, prosecutors, courts. "Why didn't we hear about that today?" in the speeches, he asks.

Why are you here today?

"For the music, it keeps me going. It inspires me," says Ed.

But it's martial music.

"I appropriate it to love one other."

Speaking of love, I wrap up talking about why he never married.

"If I become president I can find somebody who'd like the benefits," Ed jokes, because it's clear he himself does not want the trappings of power and wealth.

He's not in it to win it, he's in it to be heard. And on July Fourth, he was.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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