Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Welcome home, Jerry

Leave it to Maria O’Leary to invite guests this year to bring their “own three-paragraph obituary (then begin living your life as you would like to be remembered)” to her popular pair of “Day of the Dead” celebrations at her Old Town Alexandria home.

Each year on Nov. 1 and 2 (All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day), the Mexican-American mother of five and owner of Nuevo Mundo, Old Town’s original fashion and jewelry boutique, invites friends and family to a viewing of her colorful “Altar to the Dead.” The main icon of the traditional several-tiered altar is Mrs. O’Leary’s late husband, well-known Washington newspaperman and White House correspondent Jeremiah A. “Jerry” O’Leary Jr.

It’s a sad fact of life that the altar grows larger each year — it’s so elaborate it practically fills an entire room of Mrs. O’Leary’s 18th-century home — as more acquaintances of the hostess pass away. But as Mrs. O’Leary knows from her Mexican roots, erecting such an altar — a tradition of Mexico’s annual “Dia de los Muertos” celebration — welcomes the dead back into their homes.

As this year’s invitation states, whichever obituary writer is judged the best will receive “a home-cooked Mexican meal for eight prepared by Maria.” (Take it from this columnist, you’d better like garlic.)

Rudy and Hillary

Just out are the latest PoliticalDerby.com 2008 Power Rankings, compiled through analysis of voter polls, press reports and “campaign staffer scuttlebutt.”

Leading the Republican horses is former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, “the GOP’s one bonafide rock star … dominating poll after poll after poll after poll after poll,” according to the rankings.

Behind him, in order, are Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Virginia Sen. George Allen, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (his popularity growing since Hurricane Katrina), Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (riding high off her “brilliantly conceived” press tour of her home state of Alabama and from political strategist Dick Morris’ assertion that she’s the only hope to stop Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton from reaching the White House in 2008), Arizona Sen. John McCain, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. (Keep your eyes on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who’s rising in the polls.)

Opposing horses are led by Mrs. Clinton, whose “rightward drift sure doesn’t seem to bother Democrats.” (The Oct. 25 Marist poll shows her opening a 24-point lead over previous presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.)

She is followed by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, former senator and vice presidential candidate John Edwards, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean (albeit, as the rankings note, despite the incredible bully pulpit of the DNC, “Dean has fallen further off the charts than JLo’s latest album.”)

Illiteracy left on base

On Capitol Hill tomorrow, Republicans and Democrats will put aside their differences to promote better communication — if not between themselves, on behalf of the Washington Literacy Council.

Reps. Michael G. Oxley, Ohio Republican, and Martin Olav Sabo, Minnesota Democrat, team managers for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, will present the council with the proceeds of the annual fundraising event, held in June at RFK Stadium. (For anybody interested, Republicans won the game 19-11.)

It so happens that in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, 37 percent of adults function at the lowest level of literacy — unable to fill out a job application, understand the directions on a bottle of medicine or read a book to their children.

In fact, 30 percent of children in the nation’s capital live in a household headed by a high school dropout. The Washington Literacy Council has 250 volunteer tutors currently teaching adults and parents how to read.

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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