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Thank-you Note No. 1

On Monday, June 26th, 3 months before the September preliminary election, I mailed thank-you notes to the voters I met while gathering signatures for Mayor Marty Walsh. After checking the 33 signatures on my sheet against a list of registered voters, I was able to confirm 26 voters as being registered at the address listed on the sheet, or about a 78% confirmation rate.

In 2009, in order to be placed on the ballot for Boston City Council At-Large, I gathered over 2000 signatures. With a 78% success rate, one would have to turn in 1923 signatures, in order to the reach the 1500 voter threshold and qualify for the At-Large ballot. As I neared 2000 signatures, I learned from John Donovan that I had reached 1500 certified: so I ended the process before reaching the original goal of 2200.

I have heard it said that the candidate has three main roles to play in a campaign – three activities on which she should focus her efforts if she wants to maximize her chances of victory on election day. They are, in no particular order: fund-raising, door-knocking, and phone-banking. These roles are best played by the candidate, but can be performed by members of the campaign team, as well.

Fund-raising tends to be the aspect of campaigning that presents the greatest challenges to new, un-elected, or outsider candidates. A new politician, one who has spent less time in the game, will lack a name and will have to work to introduce themselves, before they can ask for donations. A non-incumbent will lack the ability to reward donations by making sure to provide donors with an equally high level of constituent service as non-donors. Outsiders, those with new ideas or the declared intention to upset the present political order, will encounter resistance from established special interests, and will find it difficult to raise money from members of organized groups with municipal axes to grind, unless one panders to a strict party line. In comparison, even a novice candidate, given enough time to work, can door-knock a voter district in person, and for relatively short dough.

Campaigns are expensive: In order to thank each of the 26 voters who lent their name to my tiny political effort on Marty’s behalf, I spent $12.74 on postage, about 2 hours verifying signatures and addresses, and about 1 hour hand-writing quick notes and hand-addressing envelopes. I have pre-printed return address labels that significantly simplified the process.

If I had attempted to thank the roughly 1560 (78% of the 2000 total) registered voters that nominated me to run for City Council in 2009, I would have had to spend about $700 on postage (stamps were 44 cents then), about 120 hours or so verifying names and addresses, and another 60 hours or so writing the notes themselves. I spent a grand total of $500 in 2009, opting to buy only palmcards, banners for use in parades and at events, and a few yard signs. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have eschewed an initial mailer effort. In the future, I will ask for help verifying signatures as I go, and the thank-you notes can be done each day, which will minimize the repetitiveness of the process.

Long-over due for a thank-you is the gentleman who initially suggested the signature thank-you idea to me; how he received it, I cannot say. In 2009, District 6 City Councilor John Tobin, who happens to hold a name well known in local politics, but who is not related to the U.S. Secretary of Labor and Massachusetts Governor, welcomed me into his City Hall office, with a view of the famous windswept brick and concrete plaza, at that moment occupied by the tent city of the Big Apple Circus, a week or two before the 2009 signature period began. John was originally elected in a local race that activists in Ward 20 remember as particularly hard-fought: a pitched battle between neighboring and normally allied clans. His opponent has since been elected State Rep and ultimately MA State Senator. I asked Councillor Tobin if he liked the circus. A part-time comedy impresario, John replied “Which one?,” with a smile that showed he enjoyed his pun and had found a way to combine humor with politics. Most politicians have another profession, but John’s naturally lends itself to doing what candidates do while door-knocking: attempt to make a short and favorable in-person impression on a voter, with whom it will be easy to “stay in touch,” since the impression has been made on the stoop of their residence.

I must also thank John for opting voluntarily to resign his political position in 2010, triggering a short special election in the late summer and fall, in which I was privileged to participate, along with four other great persons and candidates: Chun-Fai (now Colin) Chan, Kosta Demos, Jim Hennigan III, and the victor, City Councillor Matt O’Malley of Jamaica Plain. It was also during the signature period of this race that I met two of the subjects of future thank-yous: Senator James W Hennigan II of Jamaica Plain and Ronald MacIntyre of Roslindale, both of whom are well-known to political activists in Wards 19 and 20. Jim is still spinning political tales and analyzing the state of politics in Boston, while Ron (or Pete to some of his older friends) has left us for the peaceful and infinite embrace of his maker and Savior. God rest his soul.

Now that signatures have been certified, campaigns will begin in earnest. Many have already “kicked off,” especially those of the Council hopefuls in Districts 1, 2 & 7, the districts with open seats and competitive races. In 2009, when I ran for At-Large Councillor, I eschewed a traditional “time,” opting instead to begin door-knocking in a neighborhood I thought would be particularly helpful to my initial efforts. I examined the roughly 250 precincts making up Boston’s 22 wards, and determined which areas of the City voted in local elections consistently and in the most concentrated numbers. With little money to spend on GOTV efforts in September, I determined to meet the voters, known as supervoters, who had been active in each of the previous three municipal elections.

In 2009, with 15 candidates in the race, a preliminary election was held to whittle the field to eight. This year, only 8 candidates made the At-Large ballot — the four incumbents, Althea Garrison, and 3 persons I know little about: the mysterious Pat Payaso, Domingos DaRosa, a local political activist and friend of District 7 candidate Carlos “Tony” Henriquez, and William A King, a young man whom I met briefly at the elections department on May 23rd.

A single additional candidate would have forced a preliminary election: electoral politics is an arena in which one individual’s efforts can decisively shape the future of the debate, at least with regard to it’s timing and inflection points. With a preliminary, all the various forums and Ward Committee meetings (including those with the possibility of endorsements); the candidate questionnaires from the numerous citizens’ groups and labor organizations; the house parties and fund-raisers and mailers and telephone calls — all must take place before a certain Tuesday in September, which makes for a frantic spring and an abbreviated summer. This year, 3 districts will vote and vote decisively, in September. Charlestown, the North End, East Boston, South Boston, Chinatown, the South End, and Roxbury: these neigborhoods will be areas of intense electioneering come the 26th of September, and these areas would also have helped disproportionately to shape an At-Large race: if only one more person had chosen to run, and had made the ballot.


Thank-you Note No. 1