It started with a conversation the day the Anne Arundel County Council announced it was seeking a successor for John R. Leopold, after the county executive was found guilty of misconduct in office.
"My daughter, she is in high school. We talk around the dinner table," said Derick Young, father of three and a carpet cleaning sales rep for Stanley Steemer. "One thing she noticed was Anne Arundel County never had an African-American county executive, and she asked me why.
"I said, 'I don't know,'" he recalled. Seconds later, he told 9-year-old Candace, "I tell you what. I will apply."
With that, Young became one of the 16 people scheduled to be interviewed Thursday night by the council for the opportunity to serve as executive until the 2014 election. One could be selected before the night is over, and might be sworn in as early as Friday.
Young, a Millersville resident, meets the requirements for the $130,000-a-year position: He's a registered Republican. He lives in the county. And he's at least 25 years old — 47, to be exact.
Those are the legal requirements, but something else drew Young to apply.
"What do you tell your children? Do you tell them you can't? No," he said. Not if you want them to learn that whoever you are, you can aspire to anything, he reasoned.
Young sought public office once before, in 2010. He came in fifth of five candidates for state delegate in the primary.
Like him, a number of applicants for the executive post aren't in the traditional mold.
Some are insiders with name recognition, some were previously rejected by voters. Others don't hold, never did hold or never sought public office.
Some have backgrounds in business or have been elsewhere in the public eye. Some say they're just regular citizens who think they can do the job.
But can they?
"You're not starting off as the receptionist. You're starting off as the boss," said Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College. That's why he suspects "the short list isn't very long."
Nataf believes the County Council is likely to lean toward someone who can boost the county's image — tarnished by Leopold, who was convicted in January of misconduct in office. Nataf says council members will pick someone who offers a level of comfort, and who is familiar with government and the concerns of Anne Arundel's 544,000 residents.
The question is whether council members go for a caretaker, such as former county CEO John Hammond, now the acting county executive, or someone such as Del. Steve Schuh, who has already said he'll seek a full four-year-term in 2014.
Council Chairman Jerry Walker noted that the council gave itself a cushion — in case it can't decide by midnight Thursday, it still has another week before its legal deadline to name Leopold's successor expires.
Last year, it took members 108 rounds of balloting to fill a vacant council seat.
Walker said the point will be to select "a person who can make the government work best. Does it help that to have someone who has never been down to the Department of Public Works? Or do you go with a John Hammond, and you have a certain degree of stability? ... I want someone with a clue how government works."
Former Maryland first lady Kendel Ehrlich, an Annapolis resident and wife of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has been in the public eye, but not in elected office.
Still, she called herself "the best candidate to repair it (the county) in morale and dignity and ethics.