Sunday, November 08, 2015

Winning the Unwinnable

Victory night at Kennedy Headquarters:   Ph: Allyse Pulliam/The Times Herald Record
Its been weeks since we blobbed, but with good reason. David was busy with the Photographers For Hope Project. We brought 8 photographers from all over the world to create a visual study of the hope in a city where before there previously had been very little.  At the same time, I was volunteered to be the Campaign Manager for the Mayor, who lost the Democratic primary election.  (It was the perfect storm of politics: everyone thought she was a shoe-in, so none of her supporters bothered to vote).

Anyway, my cousin Steven volunteered me to be her Campaign Manager for the general election.  We ran as a third party candidate on the Independence line, because there are almost no Independence party people.  No one in Newburgh has ever won on a third party ticket. But we did.  We made history in a town that is going through a transition.  The campaign, quite like the photo project, was focused on Hope.  During the photo project no one tried to cover up the problems, but we tried to highlight the movement toward hope as well.  The photo exhibit brought together all kinds of people, crossing ethnic, racial, economic and party lines.  Everyone agreed that it had never been done before.

At the same time, our Mayoral campaign was trying to build an unusual constituency, diverse racial, ethnic, economic and party lines.  We were endorsed  by African Americans, Hispanics, Labor, Republicans and the business community, both new and entrenched for years.  The parallels between the photo project and the elections were too numerous to mention.

Anyway, I agreed to be the campaign manager but only because these incredible people, Jerry Maldonado  and Karen Mejia, ( a city coucil  elected official) understood the communities we were targeting.  We developed a political and communication strategy from which we never deviated.  Our GOTV (“get out the vote”) was right on target, and we encouraged people from the individual communities to help us determine the way we dealt which each community. There was never a moment when we lost control of our message, or our determination to win.  Let me just say, in all my 35 years of campaigns I have never met two people who were more determined, and just plain smarter, than these two incredible people.  In addition, the candidate, Judy Kennedy who was the mayor trying to get reelected as a third party candidate, worked harder and with more diligence than any candidate for whom I have ever worked.  She did exactly what we told her to do – not without questioning our thinking, but once she understood where we were going, she did her best to cooperate.

We won. Our opponent lied, exaggerated, and made things up.  He was not a stable person, which we understood from their first debate, and we played on his inability to manage, understand, or govern with all the difficulties of a city like Newburgh.  He didn’t understand how limited the budget was and kept saying, “we just need to do it”, which of course you just couldn’t do.

This was the first time I have worked in a local election.  When you work in Presidential politics, everything is local, but you look for a national message that works everywhere.  A friend of mine said all politics is local.  I said, if you don’t have a sense of humor get out of the business. Both statements are true, and one never negates the other.  It was very exciting to win when everyone said it would never happen. It was especially heartwarming for this political hack, who has always believed that the truth and being the good guy can make a positive difference.  It was exhausting and stressful but Karen, Jerry and Judy, the mayor, were a joy to work with, and be with, and especially —  win with.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

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