It has been 400 years since he last held elected office, but Capt. John Smith is coming out of his political retirement and throwing his feather-adorned hat into the presidential campaign.
Smith was last elected to head the troubled Jamestown colony in 1607 and is credited with helping to save it from disaster. Though at first glance he seems disqualified because he was last known to be a legal resident of England-not to mention dead-the Chesapeake Bay Foundation thinks he's just the man for the top job.
That's because Smith, drawing on observations made during his legendary explorations of the "faire Bay" in 1607-08 has something other presidential candidates don't-at least not yet: a clear vision for the Chesapeake.
"My vision is for a clean and restored Chesapeake Bay, with abundant fish, crabs and oysters, a region with healthy farms and a vibrant seafood economy, just like in the old days," the red-bearded explorer said when announcing his candidacy in June.
Of course, it wasn't really the famed explorer saying those words. It was actor Scott Pierce. The CBF launched Smith's "campaign" to raise the profile of the Bay, and water issues in general, in this year's presidential election.
The group is conducting an online petition drive at www.votethebay.org aimed at getting the public to sign on to Smith's vision, which includes strong federal leadership, cutting pollution and making the Bay a model for restoration.
Smith showed up at his initial campaign events clad in a blousey shirt, britches, cape and boots, sporting a sword on his belt. "I stand not just for a clean Chesapeake Bay; I stand for clean rivers and streams all across America," he said. "For if we can clean up the Chesapeake Bay-and working together we bloody well can-we can clean up every stream, river and bay in this country."
The CBF's goal is that the eye-catching campaign will get people to promote Bay issues in letters to whichever presidential candidate they prefer.
"What we hope is that by coming up with a different approach, we will get the attention of not only the candidates-but also the public and the media-about the importance of the president of the United States in considering the restoration of this national treasure as a priority in his administration," said CBF President Will Baker, who acts as Smith's policy adviser.
He said the organization plans to present a more complete Bay platform to the campaigns later this summer in the hope that it will be adopted by the candidates. Items under consideration for the platform include increased funding for the region's cleanup efforts, stronger runoff controls, more strict air pollution controls, support for outdoor eduction in schools and other measures.
The Bay isn't the only region asking for campaign consideration. In the Great Lakes, a coalition of 100 advocacy groups earlier this year sought signatures from candidates on a pledge to fund and support Great Lakes restoration. The pledge was signed by both John McCain and Barack Obama during the primaries.
Baker said presidential involvement in the past has been an important factor in moving Bay restoration forward, noting that Ronald Reagan had called the Bay a "national treasure" in his 1984 State of the Union address and formalized federal participation in the cleanup effort.
"Those words in the State of the Union address really drove his administration from what had been, prior to that decision, seen as pretty anti-Chesapeake Bay to one that was very much pro-Chesapeake Bay," Baker said. "That level of engagement by the president can be very important in moving policy."
Much of John Smith's low-cost campaign is Internet-based-the candidate referred to this new technology as a "black art"-with the intent that people will spread the word via e-mail. But, Baker said, he anticipates John Smith will be making "strategic" campaign appearances through the summer to promote his vision from the past as a future for the Chesapeake.