Notes from the Campaign Trail

Maybe it was an envelope with an unusual combination of postage stamps. Maybe it was the mysterious taxi cab that pulled into your driveway. Or perhaps it was the 12-year-old knocking on your door.

One way or another, you may have noticed a difference in my campaign for Santa Rosa City Council.

It makes sense that I run a different kind of campaign, because I’m a different kind of candidate. I don’t come from a background in politics. My career has been covering politics as a journalist, not practicing them as a politician. And I wanted my campaign to reflect that difference.

That choice was easy, and natural. Early on I decided that mine would be a broad and deep “grassroots” campaign, with support from throughout the community. I wouldn’t get a ton of big donations, but I would get hundreds and hundreds of small ones. I would lean more heavily on volunteers than I would on paid consultants.

If that resulted in a few unscripted and maybe even “unprofessional” moments, that was OK with me. In fact, some of these little vignettes are what helped me get through the last 14 months since I first announced my candidacy.

The Stamp Collection

Last November, at my campaign kickoff event, Nancy and Bob casually asked if I could use some postage stamps for my campaign. Naturally I said yes – even in this digital age snail mail remains a key piece of the communications strategy in any campaign. That, and I had a lot of thank-you letters to send after that first fundraising party.

A few days later I received a big envelope from Nancy and Bob containing hundreds and hundreds of commemorative stamps. Marilyn Monroe stamps. Olympic stamps. Heroes of Baseball stamps. State flag stamps. Stamps of almost every denomination (except the one I needed most – the first-class mail stamp worth 49 cents).

This was a boon, but also a bit of a burden. I’ve sent about 400 thank-you letters in this campaign, and each one required searching through the collection for a combination of stamps adding up to somewhere close to 49 cents.

Luckily, my neighbor Aubrey – who is getting up there in years and doesn’t feel up to walking precincts or making phone calls – asked how she could help with the campaign. So, for the last few months, she’s been stuffing envelopes and licking stamps, creating colorful mosaics on paper that land in your mailboxes. Sometimes she puts a little more postage than necessary on a letter, but never too little. Not a single letter has come back. Thanks, Nancy and Bob! And thanks, Aubrey!

The Taxi Driver

It’s the kind of email every candidate loves to receive: “As I heartfully hope to look forward to your success for the City Council, I would like to let you know my interest to work for your campaign.”

It was signed by a man named Tecle, who I later learned came to Santa Rosa just three years ago from the east-African country of Eritrea. He is taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College (including political science, in which students are encouraged to get a little campaign experience), and he makes his living driving a cab.

Tecle arrived at my house first thing on a Monday morning, ready to deliver yard signs to people who had requested them through my web site. A couple of weeks later, he came to an evening meeting at my house at which we were training volunteers for phone banking. Though his English is much better than my Tigrinya (the primary language of his native land), his accent is strong, and he had trouble with the phone bank duties. But no worries! He has his taxi, and I have signs, and Tecle has been a stalwart volunteer. Thanks, Tecle!


The 12-year-old

I imagine that if I had asked my daughter when she was 12 years old to spend the last weekend of her summer vacation knocking on strangers’ doors to spread the word about a political candidate she had never met, her eyes would have rolled right out of her head.

And maybe Carla rolled her eyes a little bit, too, when her mom Trina said they were going to walk precincts for me on that fine summer morning in the middle of August. Maybe Carla groaned inwardly, and wondered, “Why me?”

But she showed up at my house that morning with a smile on her face and an attitude that said, “Let’s get this done.” She grabbed a name tag and a map and a packet of voters’ names, and she and Trina hit the streets. Four hours later, Carla was slumping a bit and her feet were sore, but she still wore a big smile. Thanks, Carla!

The Stapler

Four hundred yard signs don’t make all that impressive a pile. But once you start folding them in half and doggedly stapling each one to a steel-wire frame, the pile looks much bigger. And when you realize that you and three friends just spent two hours putting signs together and you still have 350 left to go, that pile looks huge.

So when the email arrived later that day from Sharon, and she offered her skills and her heavy-duty stapler to put signs together for me, I jumped at the chance. I asked, How many? Well, she said, I could do 100, and I can get my neighbors to put up a bunch of them, and I’ve already been emailing friends and family to vote for you. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Thanks, Sharon!


The Trouper

Earla and Kelly were some of the first people I met when I started this journey 14 months ago. The Oakmont couple got in touch to tell me they loved my columns in the Press Democrat and my work for SMART. They endorsed me and sent a check. They showed up at my kickoff event last November in Railroad Square, and when a windstorm blew out the lights for the whole neighborhood, somehow found their way to their car and got home safely.

They got home safely after my fundraiser last month, too, but Earla tripped on something in her house that night, fell and broke her wrist. The very next evening, smiling through her pain, she greeted me at the annual dinner of the Oakmont Democratic Club.

Earla had surgery on that wrist a couple of weeks later, but still co-hosted a house party for me with a few dozen of her Oakmont neighbors. When she gets her cast off, I want to shake her hand and tell her how much I appreciate her perseverance and support Thanks, Earla!

These are just a few stories from among the dozens and dozens of big favors and small kindnesses I’ve been lucky enough to receive along the campaign trail. And while my volunteers have been good to me, they’ve also been treated well in the community with offers of water or bathrooms as they walk precincts, with gratitude from voters who appreciate a real person at the door or a real voice on the phone and with words of encouragement from citizens who thank them for giving their time to get involved in our city.

As I write this, we’re down to the last few days before the Nov. 4 election. There’s still a lot of work to do, still plenty of doorbells to ring and still a bunch of phone numbers to be dialed. But before the votes get counted, I wanted to stop and take a minute to thank all of the dozens and dozens of volunteers who have donated a piece of their lives in the past year to become a piece of this campaign. I couldn’t have done this without them.

Now – who wants to go precinct walking this weekend???