HUNTINGDON - Demetri Patitsas believes the young people of his generation should always strive for the highest level of civic duty.
Putting that belief into action, Patitsas has announced that he has started ''The Longest Presidential Campaign in U.S. History'' in his quest for the White House in 2020.
''I want to run a fun-spirited campaign,'' Patitsas said. ''I would challenge my opponent to a chess match.''
(Mirror photo by Cori Bolger)
Demetri Patitsas stands by his billboard along Route 22 in Huntingdon. Patitsas has started “The Longest Campaign in U.S. History” in his run for the White House in 2020.
Patitsas, 23, began his 12-year campaign by spending $650 on billboard space along Route 22, east of Huntingdon.
The sign, which stays up through early November, shows a gigantic picture of Patitsas and advertises his official campaign Web site.
''I'm trying to prepare myself,'' said Patitsas, who is reading from a list of 100 books recommended by a professor. ''I don't think I can lose.''
Although the idea is a bit tongue-in-cheek, Patitsas said it's his way of holding himself publicly accountable for his own dreams and goals while inspiring his generation.
''I want to give young people a sense of hope and encourage them to reach their own personal countdowns to greatness,'' he said.
''They can make a big impact, even if it's locally,'' Patitsas said.
He always has sought out leadership roles.
He was student council president at Huntingdon Area High School, where he graduated in 2003, and student government president at Juniata College, where he graduated in 2007.
Patitsas got the idea to start a campaign last year. His identical twin brother, Pete, could always take his place in an emergency situation, he joked.
Patitsas said he was motivated to start a grassroots campaign by the current election season and the disconnection between ''Generation Y'' and government.
Although young voters tend to rally behind Barack Obama, Patitsas said many are disillusioned by both candidates and have a desire to feel more connected, get more involved and have a stronger voice in the process.
''I didn't feel inspired by either candidate,'' he said. ''Our generation is like the lost group without a connection to the position. We need people we're inspired by and can follow throughout their entire careers.''
Patitsas, who is set to volunteer on his own in Guatemala this winter, believes candidates should consider volunteerism as part of their campaign strategy.
''It would make a big impact,'' Patitsas said. ''I think it would be incredible to see a president build a house and meet the rich, poor and disabled on a basic level.''
The owner and operator of Absolute Creo, a regional ice cream truck business, Patitsas also dabbles in real estate and teaches salsa dancing.
The grandson of Greek immigrants, he has traveled overseas and immersed himself in diverse cultures.
He said there are many aspects of the U.S. government that can be improved upon, such as lowering the cost of education and promoting international travel and volunteerism.
''I don't pretend to have insight to any one issue,'' he said. ''I do have the energy, work ethic and ability to dare. If anything, I hope I can create a stir to empower people. In our youth, we can set the tone for our future.''
In 2020, Patitsas will fulfill all constitutional requirements to run as an independent candidate: natural-born citizen, at least age 35 and resident of the country for at least 14 years.
State rules differ, but Patitsas can either gather thousands of signatures to be listed on the official ballot or persuade voters to write-in his name when they cast their vote.
But then, there's the experience factor, the task of raising the money to fund a national campaign and gathering support from interest groups.
''I would say there are a whole lot of other informal criteria to weigh,'' said Dennis Plane, a political science professor at Juniata College. ''By any of the informal qualifications, he's nowhere near there. Can he get there in the next 12 years? Political history says he can't.''
Presidents tend to be older and it usually takes a lifetime of achievement to become president, or even a senator, he added.
Plane said despite the odds stacked against Patitsas, the campaign brings back the idea that even a small child or everyday Joe can aspire to be president.
He praised Patitsas for trying to empower young people, but cautioned him not to cheapen the political process by turning it into a joke.
''I think most independent candidates know they don't stand a chance so they're in it for something else,'' Plane said. ''A lot of people run to get votes and get their names in some obscure government document. You get the bragging rights and a platform to spread your message, but that's about it.''
Patitsas' Web site is www .votey2020.com.
Mirror Staff Writer Cori Bolger is at 946-7458.