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She's not afraid to question 'party' politics

Tuesday was a busy day for Alethea Pieters. It began when she climbed out of bed at about 6 in the morning to hit the Election Day hot spots as deputy campaign manager for Boston City Councilor Mike Ross. Nearly 15 hours later, at the end of the CNN "Rock the Vote" debate at Faneuil Hall, she gained fame as the confident and composed young woman who had the chutzpah to pose the question.

Throwing everyone off balance and eliciting some rare spontaneity from the candidates, Pieters asked the Democratic presidential contenders to choose which of their rivals they would most like to "party with."

"I mean, we're talking, who's going to be loyal to you?" she continued, undaunted as the building rocked with laughter. "Imagine if you were single again. If you see a cutie across the room . . . who's going to be your wing man? Who's going to take one for the team?" (Joseph Lieberman got some laughs by saying he'd party with "the young lady who asked that question," and Al Sharpton may have trumped that by selecting John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.) Little wonder that in the post-debate "spin room," where journalists sought out the night's big stars, Pieters found herself being interviewed.

In truth, Pieters could just as easily have asked the candidates a probing policy query. Before the debate started, she submitted a series of questions to the organizers, some serious and some on the lighter side. "They called me right away and said, `We love the party question,' " Pieters recalls. "I said, `Uh-oh.' "

Pieters acknowledges that she wanted to get the candidates "to speak off the cuff. I wanted them to get off the talking points." But she insists she wasn't really interested in finding out each candidate's ideal drinking partner. "In the end, it's not, who do you want to party with," she explains. "But who do you trust?"

And it was no accident that the 2002 Tufts grad -- she majored in political science and minored in communication and media studies -- found herself standing in front of a microphone at a national debate. Frankly, you shouldn't be surprised at all if you see her name on a bumper sticker one day.

"Young people aren't apathetic; young people volunteer at huge rates," says Pieters, who mentors a troubled teen through the Junior League of Boston. "But in order to make a difference, you need politics."

A self-described "political nerd," she sheepishly admits that during her high school years in Houston she attended Junior Statesmen of America camp at the University of Texas in Austin. At the tender age of 22, Pieters has already worked on the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign of the man she calls "Warren the Soul Man Tolman" and tackled immigration issues in Senator Edward Kennedy's Boston office. Her current job is as a budget analyst in the office of Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee chairwoman Therese Murray.

Ask about her career goals and Pieters doesn't hesitate. "Perhaps I would run for office," she says. "I am interested in being a judge."

The daughter of a father from Guyana and a mother from China, Pieters was the founder of the Tufts Multi-Racial Organization of Students and was honored by the school's alumni association as one of the 13 outstanding seniors in the fields of academics, athletics, and community service. Her skills include playing the violin and sports. She boasts, "I have a mean jump shot, but I can also play a Tchaikovsky concerto for you."

While at Tufts, she was also the creator and cohost of the popular Tufts Television Network show "Jumbo Love Match," which Pieters describes as a dating game that involved couples choosing each other, going on a date, and then recounting some of the juicy details of their encounter before deciding whether they had real chemistry. That enterprise helped garner her the campus award of "Best Female On-Camera Personality."

"I've always considered myself a matchmaker," she says. "What we were trying to do was get old-fashioned dating back in play."

A devoted Democrat, Pieters has started to settle on some favorites in the presidential race. "I would like to see something between the Johns," she says, referring to Kerry and Edwards. "Those two, I think, are real."

And what if she had to answer her own question and pick one of the candidates to party with? Here, Pieters's already formidable political skills come into play.

"I don't know which one I would want to party with," she says, thinking for just a moment. "But Joe [Lieberman] picked me, so I guess I should party with him."

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