Reflections on running for local office

First of all, it was fun. I don’t really recommend running for elected office if you’re not an extrovert. Because the job is basically meeting and chatting with a lot of people. Like, a lot. If you like meeting and chatting with people, then it’s great. If you don’t, it might be torture for you.

But, let me take a step back. In 2022, I ran for elected office: to be an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in my community of Woodley Park, Washington DC. DC has a unique system of micro-democracy in which every neighborhood (about 2000 residents) elects a commissioner. The commissioners sit on Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. There are about 40 of them across the city, with about 300 commissioners.

Every two years, DC voters elect ANCs, among other public elected positions. These positions are unpaid, and have no legal authority. But their views are “given great weight” by the city government in relevant matters. They are empowered to consider “planning, streets, recreation, social services programs, education, health, safety, budget, and sanitation which affect” the neighborhood. Mostly, it’s all the little, but important stuff the occupies the time and energy of neighborhoods and has a big impact on quality of life: getting sidewalks fixed, and recycling picked up, and preserving the things you love about a neighborhood.

Since I started consulting for a living (I’ll write something about that soon), I spend a lot more time at home and in my neighborhood and I have a pretty flexible schedule. So, when the ANC position for my neighborhood opened up, I decided to run (see my announcement message below).

The majority of ANC elections are uncontested — meaning there’s only one candidate. For about 20 ANC elections, there was no candidate. Shortly after I announced (see my announcement message below), a neighbor also decided to run. We didn’t know each other, even though we only live one block apart.

I heard he was running when a neighbor texted me and told me there was another guy gathering signatures. So, I ran out to meet him. And we signed each others’ candidate petition. I wanted this to be a friendly, civil competition, and luckily it was.

Warren, my opponent, very kindly had me over for coffee and we talked about issues. On almost everything, we held very similar views. There were a few marginal issues where we differed, but there were unlikely to be major concerns for voters.

Door-knocking with my favorite constituent in October.

Strategy

Since my opponent and I were pretty similar in our positions, the actual policy and issues was not likely to decide the election. Instead, it would be about name-recognition and familiarity. If I was playing dirty, I’d find something to criticize my opponent on. But I wanted to run positive. And there wasn’t much to separate me and my opponent on substance.

Many voters leave the ballot for blank on ANC elections because they don’t know what it is, or who the candidates are. I’ve done that before. So, I decided my best bet was to push my name like a brand. I made a “Gawain 4 ANC” website, printed out 5x7 cards, made a bunch of yard signs. Most importantly, I knocked on a lot of doors. I think I visited about 90 percent of the homes in my district, chatting with residents and dropping off my card if no one was home. A little more about my tactics below:

Door knocking: My district is almost all single-family homes, so it’s possible to knock on almost every door. It’s harder to do in districts with apartment buildings. My district is pretty big: 1.5 km2 and a perimeter 7 km according to Bob Ward. That’s a pretty big territory to cover, but since I wasn’t going to pay for advertizing or mailers, canvassing was the way to go. It’s takes time and is tiring. But it’s effective and cheap. But, I was lucky my friend Ashby and her dog Laredo were game to come walking with me for almost of my time canvasing. Having company made it a lot more fun. My boy came out once or twice as well.

Calling cards: I needed something to hand out or leave behind, so I worked with a designer-friend and made 5x7 cards that said a little about me and my goals, had some photos, and had a link to my website. I got 500 printed which cost about $130. I left them with people I met and wedged them into doors when there was no answer.

Website: I did a do-it-yourself website from a template at Wix. Cost about $50 to sign up and register a website: www.gawain4anc.com.

Yard signs: If there’s one thing that distinguished me from other candidates, it was my yard signs. Rather than pay for professionally printed ones — which many candidate do — I decided to make them myself. This might have saved money, although I doubt it. But the signs were very distinctive and people definitely noticed them. I got a lot of comments, almost all positive, on my yard signs. I made about 25 total and spread them out through the neighborhood. A bunch of people offered to host them in their yards, but I didn’t have enough for everyone. The signs were definitely a brand-builder in the neighborhood as well as a fun conversation starter.

Events: I participated in two candidate forums and tried to organize a couple meet-and-greets. A few of the ANC candidates organized a Sidewalk Palooza — which wasn’t really a campaign event, but was outreach and visibility. But, events didn’t play a big role in my strategy or the campaign..

Other communications: Some ANC candidates do mailer or other communications. I didn’t — to save money and because I didn’t think they’d be effective. One tactical question was whether to promote my campaign on the Cleveland Park listserv. It’s a pretty big audience and a cheap way to communicate. Most of the ANC candidates, at a minimum, sent a message introducing themself. In the end, I decided to stay off the listserv because it’s really a toxic place and putting yourself there makes you a target. I didn’t think it would be very important in my district — which is a bit further away from CP center and doesn’t seem to have that much participation. In retrospect, I think that was probably a good decision.

Fundraising: ANCs can raise money for their campaigns. Campaign donations are capped at $25. Some candidates raise good money. A bunch of people offered to donate, but I decided I”d rather keep costs down and spend the time and effort doing other things than fundraising. I spend about $400 total.

Results

I enjoyed the experience a lot. I liked the candidate forums — a chance to meet people and do a bit of public speaking, think on your feet. A good challenge to distill your ideas and try to communicate a positive vision. I liked the door-knocking although it was time-consuming and exhausting. Doing it with my friend was a strong positive. I really liked meeting other candidates, sharing tips and commiserating, and learning about our community.

Talking to people in the neighborhood, in person and via email, was fun and usually energizing. Not everyone agrees with you on everything, but I found the interactions almost uniformly friendly and not very difficult. And I learned a lot about the neighborhood and what people care about. I know the streets and houses in much more detail than before. Door knocking in October was beautiful with fall weather and the trees in fall colors. It was nice to be outside and walking around.

I had a lot of positive feedback, and not very much negative feedback, so going into the election, I was feeling pretty good. In fact, the vote was closer than I thought. In the end, it was 349 to 320 (as of November 20, not official or final), although it was much closer on election night.

A winning election confirms your strategy was a good one. Sometimes you can win (or lose) despite your strategy. But something worked right. But winning a close election is somehow more gratifying. It tells you that you didn’t waste a lot of effort and that, probably, everything you did contributed to the result. And everyone who helped can take credit as well. I’m really grateful and pleased to win. Being honest, I would have been disappointed, but not crushed by a loss. This was something fun and interesting to do, something where I think I can do some good. But my opponent would have done a good job as well, and partly for that reason, I wasn’t that emotionally invested in the outcome.

I’ll write more about what I want to do as an ANC, my approach to the role, and updates along the way. But for now, this is what I want to record.

My announcement:

From: Gawain Kripke
Sent: Thursday, July 21, 2022 11:27:27 PM
To: Neighbors
Subject: I’m running for local ANC!

Dear Neighbors,

I’m in!

Announcing my candidacy for advisory neighborhood commissioner in Woodley Park. I’m excited and it gives me a great excuse to meet and chat with all my neighbors!

I’m running for our local ANC because my family has benefited from living in this wonderful neighborhood, and I want to do my part to sustain and improve it. Our two children attend the local public schools (Go Eaton Eagles! Go Hardy Hawks!) and we love our parks, playgrounds, shopping, walkable retail, farmers markets, etc etc etc.

I want work to make our neighborhood even better:

* safer streets

* a welcoming, inclusive community

* more and better retail and food

* preserving our natural beauty

* taking care of our elders and neighbors who need help.

Our district — Single-member district (SMD) 3C07 — is a newly formed after a redistricting plan. It is part of the Woodley Park/Cleveland Park ANC. You can see if you’re in 3C07 district here.

My first task will be gathering 25 signatures from registered voters in this district to get on the ballot. I’ll be knocking on your door with my clipboard in the coming days. I’m eager to hear your ideas and concerns about the neighborhood.

The election is November 8. I hope to earn your vote! You can follow me on twitter here.

Thanks,

Gawain Kripke

Running for SMD 3C07 in ANC 3C

Woodley Park and Cleveland Park

Election is November 8: Register and vote!

ENDS//

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gawain

I'm a human person, working in policy & advocacy in international development, gender rights, economic justice.