If there are tougher crowds on the campaign trail than the teenagers at Crosswalk at 6:40 a.m., Gary Locke will have to work hard to find them.
“How do you like it here?” the Democratic gubernatorial candidate asked a series of street kids who were coaxed out of their fold-up beds an hour early Thursday for a campaign visit.
“It’s OK,” said a 15-year-old boy who picked at a Pop-Tart and peered around Locke for a better view of the cartoons on television. He stays at Crosswalk some nights when he and his mom don’t get along.
“‘S all right,” said a 15-year-old girl who has spent two or three months at the shelter waiting until she and her fiance can leave town.
A youth with green hair growing out from the remnants of a mohawk grunted. Another with a Walkman adjusted his headphones without acknowledging the candidate.
The King County executive and former legislator came to Crosswalk to begin a 24-hour-campaign marathon of stops across the state, dubbed “Locke around the clock.”
The two-story Volunteers of America shelter for runaway teens - with its folding beds downstairs and Head Start classroom upstairs - has long been a favorite of politicians from both parties.
It gives them a chance to see how small slices of the millions of dollars allotted to social programs get spent, and hear from the people who work every day with the problems politicians often just make speeches about.
While the night’s residents stirred from bed and dressed, VOA director Marilee Roloff explained the shelter offered beds to 1,500 youths last year. It provides classes and serves as payee for disabled people who receive government help.
Roloff advocated for moderation in the state’s approach to juvenile crime.
“We have never argued against swift and just punishment. The kids don’t either - do the crime, do the time,” she said. “But for every dollar added to juvenile prisons, add a dollar for prevention.”
Locke showed a deep knowledge of the state’s budget from his years as House Appropriations chairman. But in trying to relate to the troubled youths, he sometimes lapsed into his stump speech on how his life was turned around by Boy Scouts and YMCA swimming when his always-working parents did not have time for their rowdy son.
Roloff, who knows that today’s candidate can be next year’s office-holder, gently noted that things are different with Crosswalk’s street kids. They come from homes that sometimes have parents who not only don’t work, but don’t know how to be parents.
“I once asked a group for a show of hands for who had been in things like soccer, Scouts, piano lessons or swimming. No one. Zip,” she said.
Locke shook hands with the street kids downstairs before leaving for the next leg of his tour. Before the 24 hours is up, he will lunch with Hispanic leaders in Union Gap, greet mill workers in Camas, Everett and Shelton, and eat breakfast with cafe customers in Seattle.
Inside Crosswalk, the teens pounded on the piano, channel-surfed the television and prepared for school.
Josh, 15, and Brendon, 14, shot a game of 8-ball and suffered questions from yet another “suit,” the reporter following Locke.
Neither boy has paid any attention to the governor’s race or its candidates, although Josh is fairly sure he met Locke one other time. Neither is sure what Locke, or any of his rivals, might do for him, and Brendon even wondered what a governor does.
Since it’s four years before he can vote, he said he’ll think about that later. Then he lined up a shot on the pool table.