On the Road to Election Day, Part X: Sisters in Arms
Being a local candidate presents many unique challenges.
Fundraising is particularly challenging, for example: How much do you need? How much should you spend? Many locally elected offices pay next to nothing. In my city, Members of Council earn $8,200 while the mayor gets $55,000 - but all are supposed to be part-time roles. School boards pay even worse here - our school board members, who have to run in EIGHT cities (because we have a regional school district), will receive far less than members of council (I believe it's $3,000 but I've been unable to weed my way through our Board of Elections site to the proper place to find the information).
But as a challenger, you need to plan on spending at least three times what previous winning candidates have spent. What have previous candidates spent? In my city, anywhere from $99.00 (seriously), to over $7,000 or more - for a seat that pays $8,200. I can tell you that I'll be far from the $99.00 because I've had to make my name known, make it mean something, get my message out, and keep getting my message out.
Which brings me to another big challenge - media coverage - that, luckily, has a not too complicated solution, especially for those of us who take advantage of social media and networking in general: the Internet (these BlogHer posts included - hattip to the folks here for allowing and engaging with them) can be a local candidate's best friend.
Colin Delany at e-politics wrote a very nice post about how I've tried to leverage the Internet and social media, not to mention the fact that because I've been on the Internet as a blogger since mid-2005, when you search on my name, or on "Pepper Pike City Council," my name or campaign website is one of the first results. (Local Cleveland bloggy friend Rob Hawkins did something similar for two other local candidates but he mentioned me and I want to be sure to reciprocate.)
Regular media - earned and paid - is a tough thing for local candidates - either because it is so hard to get or because it is prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, due to downsizing and re-tooling of newspapers, the coverage is skanty and left to the local papers.
I don't necessarily dislike that - I think local news is vital and in my community, which is still comprised of more than 50% registered voters 55 years old and older, people read the local papers. These readers do not, as a general proposition, get their news and information so much from the Internet the way I do and probably many of you do. And so, as a local candidate, I need them to be able to read about me whereever they read about anything else.
So one example of how bigger papers are delegating coverage and not leaving local candidates entirely out of the picture is the use of Voter Guide - as with my local metro paper, the Plain Dealer. Voter Guide provides online coverage of local races and the fact is, it can cover far, far more than anything a print newspaper can or will these days. Although it's not the same as reporting (because the candidate fills out everything), in the case of the PD, it's covering 382 races and 688 candidates. I'm just one of those 688 and my race is just one of the 382.
What have other women candidates been up to regarding getting out their message? Here's a look at how some of my sisters-in-arms who are running for local office throughout Ohio are dealing with small cities, big cities and being a challenger or challenged:
Lorrie Sass Benza: I cannot believe I forgot to include Lorrie at the start. Maybe it's one of those "staring in your face" things. Lorrie was the straw that broke the camel's back in making me decide to run for office. A lawyer, mother of three (all under 11), a dedicated work-out person and coach for girl's drill team, she is the epitome of "dynamo." She did a bodybuilding and fitness competition this past fall, all the while running for office, running her family and serving on her town's board of zoning appeals. What made Lorrie's decision to run so influential: I was browsing our local paper several months ago, saw an article about her announcement and recognized the last name as being that of a law school classmate of mine whom I'd always admired (and we both had big public interest law interests). When I read that she too was a lawyer with three kids, and lived only a couple of towns away, I just thought, this has to be a sign (we're also about the same age). (And then of course I emailed her husband, asked for her email, met her for lunch and continue to follow her. So looking forward to debriefing with all these great women who are putting themselves out there.)
Anitra Brockman: Anitra is running for Cincinnati City Council and when you google her name her campaign site comes up and starts with audio and has a video on the front page. I think it's great and it really seems to suit Anitra. I can't recall how I learned about her candidacy, but she's also a single working mom. She's been using Facebook a lot and has had a number of creative actions - rallies, gatherings and motivating messages to people following her.
Nicki Antonio: Nicki is an incumbent in the Lakewood City Council and I met her a couple of weeks ago at a NARAL event. At least two people had told me that she is someone I needed to meet and I'm sorry that I haven't had more time to get to know her. Here's a fun video of her on a radio show, but as an incumbent, she also gets to have the official city bio (which, by the way, is what the three incumbents in my race have for their web presence, plus the Plain Dealer's Voter Guide.)
Stacy Paghis: Stacy is a dynamo who hopes to get elected to the Moreland Hills City Council. As it turns out, we have a lot in common. She's got all kinds of things goin' on for her and her race (three seats, six candidates, two incumbents) but here's the thing: there are only 1400 or so registered voters in her town (which is one town over from mine) and already more than 750 have requested or received mail-in ballots! She has little presence on the Internet but word of mouth for her has been great because she's been engaged and involved for a long time, as has her family and her husband. She's an original networker.
Lisa Perry: Lisa is someone who talked me down off the ledge one morning maybe three or four months ago. She is a very seasoned city council member in Orange Village, another town that is just one over from mine and also is smaller than mine. She is running with two other incumbents and they now have a presence on Facebook. For older suburbs like ours, some wonder what the value of Facebook might be, but the reality is that many parents from our community congregate on Facebook and they go viral there - it is definitely worth the time, you just have to not get consumed by it.
Miesha Wilson Headon: I am going to always love Miesha - who is running for Richmond Heights City Council - because when we were at a training session several weeks ago re: how to run for office, she recognized me from having been on the local NPR station a couple of years ago, for much of the year. I love that people still remember that. In addition to her very bright, cheery and complete campaign website, she has a Facebook presence and we've been communicating a lot there to commiserate and figure things out. Like me, she is trying to combine a number of types of outreach (postcards, mailed lit, door to door) to make up for our lack of funds and lack of incumbency - ah, incumbency. Talk about the elephant in the room (no offense to those who have it, deserve it and still go out and campaign - it's those who act entitled that skew the impression). Anyway, she also has a profile on the PD's voter guide.
Lisa Mansfield: Lisa has a campaign blog for her run for Akron School Board, and she's not afraid to use it! She set up a tool called chatandgo.com, went to a coffee shop, met people there and then did a livechat from there as well, all on a relatively slow night - a Sunday evening. If you browse her blog, or her Facebook presence, you'll see that she's enticed people with a variety of relevant events but also in a variety of ways, across platforms. I also happen to covet her election day countdown clock - just 312 hours until the polls close!
After November 3, I'll let you know how we all did. Take a look down those 688 names - a lot of women, a lot of local. How do we do it all? Some days, I honestly do not know.