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Run, run for your life

Boog City, Issue 3
2/25 – 3/10/02
by Kimberly & Ian Wilder

If you are registered in a third party, running for office is fun and easy—we know. We both ran for office on the Green Party line last year. We decided to run for a variety of reasons—and, like most politicians, some of them probably had to do with ego. But, self-love or not, there are a lot of really good reasons for you to think about running a third-party candidacy.

Third parties in the United States are small and trying to grow. Having candidates running, leafleting, and granting interviews, puts your party out there in a way that can attract new members. At the same time, you are generating excitement about the party and putting out your issues to a broader public.

Being a candidate is the perfect way to become the “spokesmodel” for your pet project or issue. Since third parties don’t always have people vying to fill every candidate spot, they might be willing to let you run a “one-issue campaign” based on your own political agenda. You might choose to run as a candidate simply to oppose a politician you think is really bad. Or, you might want a platform for your activist art, poetry, or philosophy.

There are a million good reasons to run, from the most sublime, to our favorite insider theory: having candidates fill slots on the third-party ballots helps “train” voters to look for your logo and your party. Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising! (It sounds a little unholy for a Green to think of these things, but politics is the place where ideals and reality hit the street together.)

Now that you have chosen at least one good reason to run, let’s talk about “the how”. “The how” is simple in a lot of ways. The basic ingredient of running for office, as many people know from grassroots organizing, the Perot campaign, or Nader’s first stabs at it, is petitioning. The size of a third party makes petitioning a breeze. For Kimberly to run for county legislator, she needed only two signatures. For Ian to run for town supervisor, he needed only 4 signatures for a town of 200,000 citizens. Why so few? Because in that town, there were only 80 registered Greens, and you only need five percent of them to sign your petition to run.

[Note: The small amount of signatures needed to run was based on the fact that at the time of the article, the Green Party in NY was an official, third party. It is 2007, and the GPNYS is no only an “independent body” now, Greens need 5% of all voters in districts – difficult to get – and the petitioning period starts in July. Petitioning is different in every state, some states have great hurdles to ballot access for anyone but the major party choices.]

That’s nice, but why are we writing in February about running for office in November? To start with, the petitioning period begins in June, and you’ll need to do some prep work to be ready for it. Your first step would be to contact your local party chairman to find out about screening to run for the race with the local nominating committee. (You always have the right to run, whether they choose to talk to you or not.) If you do get the blessing of your local party, they can help you with the steps detailed in the rest of this article. But realize that third parties often have less time and resources to hold your hand through the process. So, you will be more of an indie label musician than a major label artist. Technically, the candidate is ultimately responsible for getting the work done. This is especially true in a third party. If you are not already enrolled in the party whose line you want to run on, you will need to take extra steps beyond the scope of this article to secure that line. This is a good reason to enroll in the party you like.

The New York City Board of Elections ( http://www.vote.nyc.ny.us* or 866-VOTE-NYC or 212-VOTE-NYC) has the tentative deadlines for election filings. The New York State Board of Elections (old was: www.election.state.ny.us / 2008 web-site: here or phone 518-474-6220) will have the actual dates when the New York State Legislature passes them. Remember that financial filings for money raised and spent are necessary even if the amount is zero. (If you are planning on running for Congress, you will also need to check with the Federal Election Commission at www.fec.gov or 1-800-424-9530 or 202-694 1100.) Also, Kimberly was required to fill out an extra, personal financial disclosure because of local ethics laws (she took glee in including the literary rights to her poetry among our assets). If you are going to raise funds or take contributions for your campaign, start asking your friends if one of them would be your treasurer. You are not allowed to be both treasurer and candidate. You can get the election financial filing forms from your local Board of Elections.

*Was listed as: vote.nyc.us. Fixed link to corrected: www.vote.nyc.ny.us)

You can download a sample designating petition from www.election.state.ny.us/law/running.htm or www.greens.org/ny/resources . It can also be found in the New York State Election Law, which is available at your local law library or www.law.cornell.edu (as are other forms, including the one for challenging petitions). We would recommend finding someone with experience getting petitions to help you with this part of the process. Petitioning is no more difficult than filling out your income tax return, but innocent mistakes can give major party candidates the excuse to push you off the ballot. This is why the petition must be printed correctly, the signatures gotten correctly, the witness affidavit filled out correctly, and the petitions presented correctly to the board of elections. Fortunately, Ian had some previous experience collecting signatures on petitions for one of the two large corporations that call themselves political parties. More importantly, we had a county chair who helped us out with completing the forms, binding the petitions, and filing them. For other people to carry your petitions, they must either be registered in your party and live in the district you are running in or be a notary public.

We would recommend doing some research and brainstorming before hitting the streets with petitions, unless you are deeply involved in your community as an activist. When you knock on people’s doors they may ask your opinion on a local issue, or, even more frightening, what you would do if elected. The argument that their signature is just to get you on the ballot, not to get you elected, so you’ll get back to them later, won’t cut it. Also your preparation work is a good opportunity to build alliances. Reaching out to like-minded friends to pick their brains about issues may draw them into your campaign. Reaching out to advocacy organizations and community groups to find out about issues is a good excuse to alert them to your candidacy. This information is the building block for campaign literature and debate fodder. It’s good to talk these ideas through with friends so you are comfortable being questioned about them by strangers.

You can get a list of the voters registered in your party for the area you want to run in by filling a Freedom of Information Law request with your local board of elections. The rule of thumb is to get at least double the minimum number of signatures required by law, because some signatures may be disqualified later due to errors, or if the person had signed another petition first. This year will see races for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general, Congress, and party state committeeperson.

We know that for the Greens, there is still plenty of time to throw your hat into the ring for the races other than governor. Attorney general candidates are highly sought after—like judges in local and state races—because of the legal qualifications required.

Assuming there is no primary, your correctly submitted petitions have just secured you a spot on the November ballot. If there is a primary, you are going to need to work that voter list you just got. You should check with your local board of elections to see if someone else filed for your spot because the local elections board is not set up to tell third-party candidates such information. Don’t be surprised if a major party candidate is poaching on your spot (Notes from My FBI File about protecting your line, p. 10).

Primaries are good, and bad, for third-party candidates. They are useful because the mainstream media likely will cover a primary, hence you, when they smell blood. Primaries are also useful because they give you another reason to contact your party’s voters. The downside is that you have to run back-to-back campaigns, and, if you are like most third-party candidates, running only one campaign is likely to completely tax your resources.

Now you need to plan the goals of your campaign. Somehow, you balance your dreams with your goals and the reality of your resources. Early on you should make a budget of the dollars and person-hours available to you. The way different people run their campaigns is probably as diverse and interesting as the way they might decorate their homes. Going door-to-door and just talking to people is the biggie if you really want to win. And you will probably want enough literature to leave at each house. Standing at train stations during rush hour (dress warm!) and in front of supermarkets is a great way for one person to reach a crowd, and it seems to be a must for the end of the campaign rush.

Ian has a dream of a revolutionary way to run a campaign without paper. We couldn’t come up with it this time around, but we did seek out a local printer who used soy-based ink and recycled paper. We had a Web site, though that alone was not enough of a draw. One of our town council candidates created neighborhood-specific posters and sent out a great e-mail chain letter. We constantly posted updates and literature at the popular supermarkets and laundromats. When we were lucky enough to get radio or television coverage and televised debates, we made sure to gather an audience with fliers, posters, list-serve messages, and lots of gossip promoting the spot.

One of the most fulfilling tasks was writing speeches for local debates. Most of us enjoyed writing them, but one of our candidates actually had her own speechwriter—her fiancé. A civic group usually sponsored the local debates, so there was an added advantage. We also realized through our campaign that an important way to nurture support is to belong to a lot of organizations and to pay attention to local issues, activists, and civic groups all year-round.

Our goals definitely diverged by the end of our campaign season. Ian believed that unless you can obtain tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of dollars, then trying to run a mass-marketing campaign, striving to win the election is pointless. Ian wasn’t worrying about spending more and more of our life savings on fliers or about campaigning until the point of exhaustion, because his goals during the last campaign were to publicize the Green Party and provide the voters with an alternative, more challenging vision of government. Kimberly has more of a lottery mentality about luck and prosperity. By the end of the campaign, she was picking out office furniture on the off chance that she would be elected.

Well, none of our candidates won an office. But we all got hundreds of people who cared enough to pull the lever by our name. And not only did we learn a lot about local issues and processes, we got to meet many local politicians upfront and face-to-face in ways we hadn’t before.

You can get some flavor of our campaign at www.babylongreen.org. Not only does it have some campaign speeches and photos up, it also has some of the new local government issues that our campaigns gave us the momentum to address.

We hope this article was a good start about how to run for office. For more advice, or help getting started or finding resources, feel free to contact Ian Wilder at wmblake7@yahoo.com or Kimberly Wilder at goodpoet@postmark.net [votewilder@yahoo.com]

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