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By Anne Federwisch
“Hey, Chris,” a man said. “This is Senator John Kerry. How are you?”
Stampolis wasn’t expecting a phone call from the gentleman from Massachusetts. But the call didn’t take him entirely by surprise, either. In fact, he’s been fielding a lot of calls from Democrat movers and shakers of late. Because in addition to his identity as a mild-mannered trustee of West Valley-Mission Community College and married father of two young children, Stampolis is a member of an elite crew who seem destined to select the Dems’ next candidate for president. He is a superdelegate—in the year of the Superdelegate with a capital S.
“You know why the senator’s calling,” Stampolis says. “He’s not calling to ask you out to lunch next week or to go windsurfing.”
Indeed, Kerry came out early in 2008 as a supporter for Barack Obama. After the Iowa caucuses, Stampolis committed himself publicly to backing Hillary Clinton. When Kerry called, Stampolis said he was sticking with his candidate. Then they chatted about shared legislative concerns.
Stampolis has also had the chance to chat with Hillary and Bill, and with Clinton backer and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Reporters from the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times call. Stampolis has had some time to talk; for the past decade he had served as director of community education and government relations for Romic Environmental Technologies, an industrial recycling company, but as Romic is closing down local operations, Stampolis has been doing part-time consulting.
People in need
How does one end up a superdelegate? In Stampolis’ case, the route runs through undergrad studies in political science and French. He acknowledges that he was born into a family of Democrats but says he looked long and hard at how Church teachings jibed with political platforms. And he found that what he learned going through SCU’s pastoral ministry program reaffirmed his political commitments, particularly, he says, when it comes to “advocating for those who are in need.”
It was while serving as youth ministry director at St. John Vianney on San Jose’s East Side that he was drawn into Democratic party politics. He helped youths get involved with People Acting in Community Together and found himself appointed to a county commission by U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren ’75. Young Democrats meetings followed, as did positions as state communications director and a national committee representative. By 2000, he was elected to be a member of the Democratic National Committee, which also made him a superdelegate.
Things weren’t so complicated for the Dems in the previous election, in which Stampolis also served as a superdelegate.
“It’s a different adventure this time,” he says, and his eyes twinkle.
Not everyone thinks the superdelegate system is so super. To some, it seems to institutionalize a class of folks with VIP access to smoke-filled rooms. And some worry aloud that the superdelegates could rip apart the party if they sway the vote away from the candidate who has garnered more of the regular delegates via the primaries and caucuses.
In fact, the superdelegate system was designed to help Dems close ranks; it was created by the party rules committee in the wake of Democratic infighting in 1980, when Ted Kennedy challenged sitting President Jimmy Carter in the primary. Stampolis concedes the system is “annoyingly complex.” But, he says, the system may prove its value yet.
“There’s a long time between now and Denver,” he says. When the Dems gather for their convention in August, the supers will assess how the potential candidates stack up against presumed Republican nominee John McCain. Expect them to pick their man—or woman—weighing heavily who they think has a better chance to win the election and, Stampolis says, “to unite the country as well.”
Anne Federwisch is a freelance writer living in the Bay Area.