Young Man With A Future: Nicholas Sottile makes you feel good about politics

Nicholas Sottile makes you feel good about politics

Lord knows, nobody ever got rich writing for an alternative newspaper, but the job does have its little pleasures and rewards.

One of them is reading the letters to the editor inspired by my column. The angrier the letter, the broader my smile. It means I have opened somebody’s eyes, if not their minds. It means I am doing my job.

Another satisfaction that comes with the job is being invited to speak to public groups and sit on forums. I am rarely paid for this honor; I more often get a meal out of it. But either way, it is nice to be appreciated.

I had such an opportunity recently. I was one of a number of local writers invited to participate in the East Cooper Writers Festival, organized by local author Susan Sloate. She recruited a couple dozen of us to go to various East Cooper public schools and spend the day meeting young people and talking about the writing business.

I spent a nice day in the media center at Laing Middle School, talking to classes of students as they were brought in and seated each period. Media center director Delores Schweitzer introduced me to each group, and I spent 40 minutes answering their questions about writing. Or that’s what I thought I was there to talk about.

In our celebrity-obsessed culture it is almost impossible to take anything seriously and since I was the closest thing to a celebrity some of these kids had seen, I got the treatment: Do you live in a house or an apartment? Are you married? Do you have any pets?

But there were other, more relevant questions. I remember a young man raising his hand a couple of times to ask my opinion of the Democrats’ presidential and congressional prospects in 2008.

As happy as I am to offer my opinion in this column each week, I confess I took a dive this time, because I wasn’t sure I should be getting into politics in the public schools. Political questions could be a slippery slope. What might start out innocently enough could end with my calling George W. Bush a fool and Dick Cheney a jackass, and these impressionable young people would go home and tell their parents that this evil man was at school saying mean things about their president and vice president. Then the phones would start ringing at the district office, and somebody would have hell to pay. No, I didn’t want to go down that road, so I just skated around the question and moved on.

I finished out the day at Laing Middle School, shook hands all around and headed over to Barnes & Noble for a book signing event with the other writers. I considered it a day well spent and a job well done. But someone thought otherwise.

A few days later I opened my mailbox to find a letter, neatly typed and strongly worded, accusing me of not having the courage of my convictions the previous week. The author of the letter was Nicholas Sottile, 14, the young man who had asked the dangerous questions.

I e-mailed Nicholas, explaining my reason for avoiding politics on that occasion. He responded to say he understood. We exchanged a couple more e-mails and I asked him and his mother to join me for lunch in Mt. Pleasant and continue the conversation.

Turns out his mother is none other than Ginger Sottile, state executive officer for the Charleston County Democratic Party. She and Nicholas recently attended the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Columbia and the Democratic presidential candidates’ debate in Orangeburg. Nicholas had met some of the leading lights of the Democratic Party: John Edwards, Harold Ford, Jr., Jim Clyburn, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden. He ran into Barack Obama in the hotel elevator. Listening to him talk about the experience was like hearing other teenagers talk about meeting pop stars.

It all seems perfectly natural for someone related to two mayors of Isle of Palms, who knocked on doors in Mayor Joe Riley’s campaign four years ago, and whose grandmother worked in Fritz Hollings’ gubernatorial campaign in 1960. I was impressed with this bright, sincere young man, not because he comes from a Democratic family and seems to be following the tradition, but because he cares about politics and understands that they are important.

The three of us talked over lunch for more than an hour, with Nicholas making odds on the leading Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. He may be right or he may be wrong, but I left the meeting feeling better about life and about the future of the Republic, knowing that a young man like Nicholas Sottile is on the train.

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