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Patch Blog: Life as a Neighborhood Council Candidate—a 'Loser's' Story

A former HHPNC Candidate recounts his experience running for elective office.

For those who haven't noticed, I am somewhat of a political animal. So, I guess it wasn't any surprise that I should eventually find my name on a ballot. In this case for a seat on The Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council.

It all began innocently enough, when I met Stan Moore on the train from Down Town. He was coming from the Stop The 710 Hearing at City Hall. I asked him about the red button on his lapel, and our conversation eventually got around to the neighborhood elections. He mentioned that there was a need for candidates, and at the time it seemed to be a way of dealing with another problem I was having. So, I accompanied Dr. Moore to his home and obtain a candidate's application. It was as easy as that, and I was on my way to being a candidate. This Blog is about my experiences as a candidate, for the benefit of students of political science, amateur political pundits, and the curious civic minded, I offer these insights, and observations.

Being the Man Of God, I strive for a spiritual life, so that when I go the way of all flesh, I trust all will go well with me. Part of that is paying close attention to omens, coincidences, and the quiet whisperings of the still, small voice of God. Through out this election process, I have been  aware of many such coincidences that lead me to believe my participation in this historic neighborhood election was karmic. I never imagined it would take on the dimensions that it did, and I think my candidacy played a role in the outcome. Under the circumstances, and as things turned out, I am proud of the difference my campaign made in that outcome.

From the beginning, I had no intention of ever winning a seat on the Neighborhood Council. I knew it would be impossible for me to get enough enough votes to win a seat. I reckoned 50 votes would suffice if the top vote getter numbers began in the 80's, and if 260-300 votes were cast. At the start, I doubted I could get a dozen votes, maybe 15 if I worked at it. Nowhere near the 50 I estimated gave me a chance of winning.

I had no resources, no experience, no supporters, no organization, no background to speak of, and no time to play catch up. So, as an old Poli-Sci major myself, I know the order of the day for any campaign is getting as many votes as you possibly can. I decided to go the handbill/flier route. It's a numbers game. You can expect 5 precent response for every 100 fliers circulated.

I printed out 700 Campaign Fliers, which should have been good for 35 votes, using my formula. With this strategy, I would have needed to have circulated 2,100 Fliers to obtain enough votes to win a seat on the new board. As it was, I guesstimated I'd need at least 1000 Fliers to produce what I thought was the requisite 50 Votes to win. The actual magic number was closer to 118. In the end I was able to personally circulate, in face to face encounters, 645 campaign fliers. So, with the limited knowledge at my disposal, I set a goal of winning 25 votes. Half of what I thought I needed to win, but decent enough to save face at the final tally.

How could I have done better? For starters, you have to realize I started late in the game, and I was an independent candidate, not part of any slate. If all things were equal, however, I might have recruited a group of dedicated supporters to canvas streets, distribute campaign literature, and provide rides to the polls on election day. I could have thrown a few pre-election parties, build a contact list, etc. I could have had a Social Media and Web Presence. Actually an Internet Campaign was in the works, but the person who was to administer it had surgery scheduled, so was unfortunately unable to assist with that. I am not computer literate, and I consider that a major handicap for my campaign.

I also could have reached out to more friends and acquaintances. It would have been nice if the tamale vendor I buy from would have voted for me, but I didn't ask. If only I had taken time out from circulating fliers, and gone by my buddy Harry, and Brian's place, reminded them to vote. Why didn't I bother to call another friend, and tell him? I bet if I sat down and wrote a list, I could have come up with another five to seven votes. Giving me 22 votes toward my original goal of 25, half of what I thought I'd need to win. If one fifth, or five of those people encourage just one more person to vote, that brings my potential vote tally to 27, two votes above my goal.

At this point, I am an underdog, fighting an uphill losing battle, literally! Every vote counts, though. Although I feel I fought hard for every vote I got, I know I could have worked just a little bit harder for those extra votes. There's no excuse for not asking everybody. No voter should be neglected, or taken for granted. 27 votes would have been rounded up to the nearest tenth, in my book. Bringing my vote estimate up to 30, double my original estimate of 15, and 5 votes above my goal of 25. Not too shabby, but still about 80 votes short of what turned out to be the actual winning number of 118 votes.

The next big event scheduled for me as a neighborhood council candidate was the Congress Of Neighborhoods at City Hall. It certainly was a day to remember, besides the food! I was happy to complete the State Required Ethics Training, and was ever so proud to stand in the council chambers, and give an impassioned plea for home ownership, and recovery of Our Southwest Indian Museum. I think it is safe to say, everyone of the Neighborhood Councils represented there that day embraced the HHPNC in the spirit of friendship, and support.

I was glad to see old friends, like Phil Leventure, and Olga Hall, as well as getting the chance to say hello to new friends, like Ann Walnum. I shook hands with Mayoral Candidates, and Candidates for City Attorney. I met other candidates for office, and got to network with members of other NCs. I strongly urge all stakeholders and potential candidates to attend the next Congress of Neighborhoods. The knowledge and experience you will gain is invaluable.

After this, I surveyed the long list of candidates running—39, vying for 19 Seats, including the executive offices. All in all it figured to be about 29 candidates contesting 14 open seats. So figure, all things being equal, there's a slightly better than a 50-50 chance of a candidacy being successful. All things are not equal, in real life, however. I was in a classic handicapped position. A no name nobody, all by my lonesome, with little time to distinguish myself from the crowd. I was in a fix on how to get my self noticed in this election. What kind of crazy publicity stunt could I pull off to get my name recognized in a hurry? The answer would soon present itself in one of those curious quirks of fate, that would end up taking on a life of it's own, and define my campaign.

I will not elaborate too much on the controversy involving the deleted post from the HHPNC Face Book page, that culminated in a flurry of emails between the current chair of the board, the Independent Elections Adviser, and myself, vis a vis, the two candidates for the president, ethics, and even possible violations of The Brown Act. Sounds petty, but I assure you people, it's very serious business.

It was also my big chance to make the splash I knew I needed for instant name recognition. By God! There are hints of chicanery and allegations of impropriety! By God! This is tailor made for The Mighty Mog Man to swoop in, and make a full fledged international crisis out of it! By God! I'll make a federal case out of it, and that's the big you know what I made out of it, too. I went all the way Down Town, to City Hall, the Office of the City Attorney, as a matter of fact.

The matter was referred to Mr. Stephen M. Box, the project coordinator for all the elections City Wide. Called me on the telephone, and everything, don't you know. Gonna resolve it right away, matter of utmost concern, and all that. Good! I'm satisfied, lets move on to the next case. I'm tired of this one. Aren't you?

One problem presented itself, however. The Candidates Forum is coming up. It's supposed to be the big opportunity for candidates to meet the voting public. Someone has the bright idea of going over the rules and bringing up the Face Book flair up at the Forum. I think that is simply a horrible idea, and terribly unfair, as it may tend to put some candidates in a bad light. I feel a twinge of guilt, as it could be argued that it is my aggressive posture which may put those individuals in a bad light. Some of whom may be completely innocent, and may actually even be nice people. I don't like that on my conscience.

In the end the issue is never brought up at the Forum. In fact, I performed admirably at the forum, but nobody saw me. The audience attendance was small, and obviously made up of the friends and family of candidates, not at all representative of the community at large. To make matters worse, the local news blog, Patch, that actually covered the event, presented a highly criticized video of a limited number of candidate's remarks. Giving the appearance of bias. Despite entreaties from Patch Readership, the perceived problem was never addressed.

It was at the next meeting of the NC that the next big turning point came. It was then, during a discussion on ethics, of all things, that I witnessed misbehavior on the part of the current president, Chris Smith, and his favored candidate for president, Cathi Milligan. These inexcusable actions seem to be directed at the rival candidate for president, Monica Alcaraz. I went home that night and commented on Patch about just what I thought about what transpired. It was tantamount to a political declaration of war. In political science terms I was "going negative." My objective: Keep Cathi Milligan off the board. My Strategy: Scorched Earth. I was even prepared to go all the way, and "oh no, you didn't," Play The Race Card. What followed was not pretty, but I'll go to my grave knowing it was necessary.

When you go negative, two things happen, first, You rouse the opposition. Second, you create a potential black lash towards your own candidacy. Since my objective wasn't to win for myself, but to hurt Cathi's chance, I only had to worry about the 1st eventuality. I factor in that a negative campaign usually has the effect of suppressing turn out, and the victory goes to whomever has the most motivated voters. I prayed Monica could bring her people out, and proceeded to launch a full frontal attack on Cathi.

Monica's very well known for her heart, so I had little doubt her supporters would have a big enough heart for her. It turns out they did, and they do! The balancing act I had to perform was to not go too negative as to lose credibility. The critique must be valid, and based on facts. It must not leave the attacker open to charges of excess or hypocrisy. Once I realized Cathi was going to commit a cardinal mistake in politics, and let the attacks go unanswered, I made the decision to ramp up the attack, and throw in the race card, via a Patch Blog, on the Wednesday before the election. Everything goes as planned. I hit hard, then back off. Then I hit hard again, then back off, go slow. Has he stopped yet? Attack again! And again! There's collateral damage. I'm using a scatter gun, not aiming a marksman's pistol. Then I'm reasonable again, or am I? Can you guess my game?

In the end 328 Votes were cast. On the morning of election day my mom asked how it was going. I said I had a goal of 25 Votes, but based on the fliers I should get at least 20. I know I can count on at least 15. I think I may have had enough support after the debates to win 32 Votes. I think going negative cost me, in the final analysis, as I knew it would. However, I started with a base line of 20 Votes, and guess that I could have, at one point earned 32. A gain of a dozen votes. So, if going negative costs me 10 potential votes, I'm still at a 22 vote estimate. 2 votes more than my base of 20, and 3 less than my goal of 25. Not bad. Going negative basically washed out any gain I may have made at the Forum. I can deal with that. At final tally I won 46 Votes. This is 26 Votes more than I figured I could realistically win, and 21 votes more than my goal of 25, but about 74 votes short of victory. There were 3 top vote getter's that got well over 200 Votes!

An unforseen by product of it all, that I consider a positive, is that I became somewhat of a Videographer. I go different out of the way places, and give mini-tours. I tape using an old lap top, but I'm going to invest in a camera, and do it right! You can see some of my videos on Patch's Pics & Clips, if you haven't done so already.

What was one of the things I did right? One thing is, I responded to every question, every criticism directed at me, that I was aware of. I left nothing unanswered. I fought. Another thing I did right was getting all my negatives out up front. What do I regret? Invoking Snyder and Alatorre, that was embarrassing. The Viva La Raza stuff. People know I'm not like that.

My proudest moments? Setting an example, that no matter what, you should never give up. Reminding people of the homeless, at the debates, advocating bravely for the inclusiveness of the LGBT Community (the ONLY candidate to specifically do so), being the only candidate to advocate for outreach to the Black, Asian, and Mono-lingual communities, defending teenagers from being stereotyped by George Zimmerman types, being a proponent of open, user friendly, responsive council. My best points? My approach to the budget, and grants. My regrets? Not working harder. Biggest bummer? If all the people who said they'd vote for me had done so, I would have won at least 60 Votes. Still far short of the 118 needed to win, however. Will I run again? Doubtful...

For the sake of conjecture, if I were to run again, my top priority would be how do I win those additional 78 votes I need to put me on the board? Well, under the circumstances, I would first need to rehabilitate my image. I would have approximately 24 months to work at it! What do you think? Do you think it was worth running for elective office? Did I run the best campaign I could have? Do you think you'll run next time?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Baird Martin October 16, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I don't know what is worse, the fact that I wasted time today reading this nonsense or you thinking so highly of yourself that you would make Don Quixote blush. God you are a loser. Get a job or something. Pay some taxes, then talk to me about advocating. By the way, "going negative" is not a concept in Political Science, it's a term made up by our media. What you did was masquerade your flaws by pointing out straw men and non sequiturs.
The MOG October 17, 2012 at 01:47 PM
@Baird, (Baird? LOL) Your post is very hateful. Why all the spite, old boy? I'm curious, what exactly gave you the impression I "think highly" of myself? Speciflly, I mean. Also, why the reference to Don Quiote? Is it truly relevent, or just your attempt at quasi-intellectualism? I'll grant, you're probably far too Hip for this hay seed, but I'm not so ignorant as to believe going negative is a "made up term", rather than applied chicanery in the arsnal of a poli-sci stategest. What do you the 2 major candidates for Pres. are doing? They are not engaging in abstract concepts, I can assure you, Baird! As far as your last sentence, you might try communicating like a normal human being, or perhaps don't smoke your meds, before composing. You will tend to make more sense, trust me. What I did, was state my handicaps in the election. My intent was to communicate my approach to running, how I gaged my chances ( I only had 3 1/2 weeks time.My opponents had months of preparation),& how I determined potential votes, etc. I wrote to benefit the person who is interested in politics, as I am, perhaps a young person who may want to run in the future, or just to inform interested parties on what a candidate goes through. I think the journalism term is Human Interest, but you'll have to correct me on that one, Baird LOL. I'm sorry you did not appreciate the spirit in which the blog was written. I pay more taxes than you, btw. I've worked longer & harder than you ever will. I DO MORE than U2
Baird Martin October 17, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Dude, take some of that money that you have worked harder for and get some dental work. A life would also be a good thing to spend some money on.
David Fonseca October 17, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Okay, Baird, I appreciate that you read the site but please refrain from making personal attacks. Same goes for you, MOG.
JosephR October 17, 2012 at 10:47 PM
MOG: Whatever our relative POVs, thanks for making the effort to take part in participatory democracy -- at the expense of your own time and even some hard-earned dollar bills. That is what it's all supposed to be about, and why L.A. City invests many millions in it (even above and beyond the $3 million of so they hand NCs each year). I don't think is has to end with with the counting of votes, either. Most NCs -- and I imagine HHPNC is one -- have places for non-boardmembers on their established committees that deal with critical issues to the community. Worth asking?

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