What I've learned
Here’s what I’ve learned, in a nutshell, condensed down to the pithiest summation I can muster:
Running for public office is a pain. It’s time-consuming, expensive, and downright scary. Also, everyone should do it at least once.
There are a thousand reasons not to run. I recognize the immense privilege which even allowed me to consider a run in the first place.
But I do think anyone with half a brain and half a heart, as well the capacity and opportunity, should consider running for public office.
Seriously, think of the benefits to society if everyone ran for office at least once. It would generate more interest and engagement in the democratic process, and we might even get some good candidates elected occasionally.
So who’s next? Is it you? One piece of advice: start early. It’s not a bad idea to start getting your campaign organized a full year before the qualifying period.
Let’s review by the numbers.
17 weeks — The campaign was only supposed to last for twelve weeks, remember? The election was postponed five weeks because of Hurricane Ida. It was the right thing for Louisiana, but it certainly taxed my endurance.
4 candidates — I chose the New Orleans City Council At-Large (Division 2) because it appeared to be guaranteed the most media coverage. It was an open seat with some high-profile contenders. This calculation proved correct, as far as it goes: the race did get more attention in the media. Frustratingly but predictably, my campaign was often ignored in favor of the establishment candidates. When Jared Brossett was arrested for DUI, subsequently suspending his campaign, it generated far more coverage than I ever got.
6 team members — This was not a solo project. I had help from a team of volunteers, including some folks from the Green Party of Louisiana. There were many impediments, including that hurricane previously mentioned. At certain times, it felt like I was laboring alone. But I never was. Special recognition goes to Marion “Penny” Freistadt who served as my campaign coordinator while also attending graduate school.
19 questionnaires — I filled out every candidate survey that came my way. Some of them were quite lengthy. The DSA survey alone had 88 questions! I struggled to keep up. Fortunately I had considerable help from my campaign team in composing responses.
13 forums — I attended every candidate forum to which I was invited. I don’t think I missed one. Many folks bemoaned the pandemic and the restrictions on public gathering, but in truth this made things much easier for me. It’s easier to hop on a Zoom meeting than to go across town, though I had to remind my family to keep the noise down. There were also a number of interviews where PACs and other organizations.
1 endorsement — From the outset, we made the decision not to pursue endorsements aggressively. Nevertheless I was honored to receive the endorsement of the Green Party of Louisiana. I thought I might also receive the stamp of approval from Sunrise Movement, since they are a climate-focused group and I ran a climate-focused campaign, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen. Antigravity magazine and the local chapter of the DSA didn’t endorse me per se but their glowing writeups came close.
1 grant — I was one of a handful of candidate to receive a small grant from the national Green Party of the United States.
2 televised appearances — This was disappointing. I expected to be on TV more. This is how a lot of people get their news, after all. There was a package on Fox 8 and the Hot Seat debate on WDSU. That was it. The most high-profile race of the season, and it’s only covered on TV twice? Fortunately I was able to mention the need for action on climate both times.
1 radio interview — My one invitation to talk on the radio came from Jeff Crouere, host of Ringside Politics in WGSO. I jumped at the chance, though I was uncertain what kind of reception I’d get. The program skews some pretty far to the right and airs some highly questionable conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, Jeff was cordial, even friendly, and a caller immediately after said I was exactly the kind of candidate we need, if only I didn’t talk about climate so much. Sigh.
1 newspaper interview — I guess this comes as no surprise. We only have one daily paper, and goddess knows how journalism has been gutted in recent years. I had a great conversation with Jessica Williams. Unfortunately very little of that interview made it into print. And the paper kept referring to me as a “Xavier administrator.” For the record, I’m just a humble staffer.
5 podcast interviews — Yes, that’s right, five! Only one was local, though.
0 signs, push cards, flyers, and mailers — We made a decision early on to forego all printed materials. It makes sense, as an environmental candidate. It’s also a cost-saving measure. When I explained our rationale, people responded favorably, and so this also became a minor talking point.
3 print ads — We did have a couple print ads designed, however, and we ran these three times locally: once in the Gambit and twice in the Data News Weekly. I learned that print ads are expensive. This wiped out most of our budget.
26 radio ads — The bulk of our remaining funds went to a 30-second campaign ad, which ran 26 times on local radio stations: ten times on WGSO, and sixteen times on WBOK.
2 bicycle accidents — I wiped out on the way to the big Gambit debate, at a busy intersection where the traffic signals have been out of commission since Hurricane Ida. A month later, I’m still healing. Penny, my trusty campaign coordinator, was actually hit by a car! We are both lucky we weren’t seriously injured. Statistically speaking, this was a weird anomaly. I haven’t wiped out like that in 21 years of bike commuting. Nevertheless it highlights the importance of bike safety and how we need to do better by our bicycle riders and pedestrians, a key point of my campaign.
3,241 dollars raised and spent — That number is a rough estimate. I have to go over everything with a fine-tooth comb and file a campaign finance report. The contributions came in mostly small amounts from 43 individuals plus the aforementioned grant. I’m honored and amazed that people believed in this campaign enough to support it financially. Thank you!
2 predicted percentage points — I only saw one advance poll on this election. They had me at 2%.
7 actual percentage points — I actually got 6.5% of the vote, but the Secretary of State rounds up. To be fair to the pollsters, the margin of error was +/- 6%, so they weren’t wrong.
- 4,776 votes received — I was expecting 1,500 votes, so I was very pleased with this result. JP got eight times as many votes as me, but I’m sure he spent well over a hundred times my total budget. A more incisive analysis will be possible once all the campaign finance reports are filed.
Here’s a graphical breakdown of the vote from the Secretary of State.
Bonus: this interactive map lets you zoom around and examine results precinct by precinct.
The only victory that matters
I’d like to return now to the definition of victory I offered at the beginning of this campaign.
If my campaign can raise climate action to the top of the public agenda for the city of New Orleans, I will consider that a success. If my campaign can help to mobilize the community for climate justice, I will consider that a victory.
On election night, both of the front-runners were on TV talking about my campaign and the voter desire for climate action. JP has said he’s looking forward to working with me on this. For my part, I will aim to provide a little more connectivity between our local government and the various activist networks in which I participate.
We can’t say “mission accomplished.” I don’t think I’ll ever see that day in my lifetime. Indeed, a lot of very smart folks say there’s precious little chance for humanity and our so-called “civilization” to avoid very dire outcomes in the very near future. Climate change is only the biggest challenge of many interconnected crises.
That doesn’t mean we sit idle on the sidelines. For me, at least, it means we must engage deeply and fully with the struggle for justice.
For now, though, I’m taking a breather as I plot my next move. I look forward to re-engaging with the Greater New Orleans Interfaith Climate Coalition and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and of course the Gaian Way. I encourage you to get involved with them or any of the other numerous groups doing good work on restoring ecological sanity to western civilization, the crucial issue of our age.
Thank you for walking with me this far.