On paper, I’m an unlikely choice.
I’ve never run for political office, never canvassed on behalf of a candidate or cause. Voting has been the extent of my political engagement. But, I haven’t missed an election in the last half-century. That’s got to count for something.
Now I find myself in municipal politics. I’m running for Common Council, the governing body of Hudson, New York. I’m a proud candidate for Alderwoman from the First Ward. There are ten alderpeople on the Council, two from each ward in this small but rambunctious and city of 6700. The two seats in my ward are vacant. There are four of us running, all on the Democratic line.It’s a one-party town.
Hudson is nestled along its namesake river about 2 hours north of New York City. It’s a historic city which traces its founding to the mid-eighteenth century.
For two centuries Hudson’s fortunes see-sawed between successive booms and busts. Manufacturing industries came and went. By the last decades of the twentieth century, generational poverty had a firm grip on the area.
In the last twenty years, however, there has been another sea change. First, individual artists, writers, poets. Next, tendrils of gallerists and antique dealers, which blossomed into the harbinger of gentrification: specialty stores and restaurants.
Now, Hudson’s a thing. Weekender affluence is both a bane and a boon. A place Conde Nast Traveler writes about. A destination you see in “getaway” articles in airline publications. “Maker spaces” are popping up, luring “creatives.” Hudson Hall, a former Opera House which hosted Susan B. Anthony back in the day is now a thriving cultural center.
New Yorkers come to put down roots, waves of intergenerational city dwellers choosing a hipster-ish urban culture surrounded by a beautiful rural setting of the Hudson Valley. Telecommuting (and frequent AMTRAK service to New York) help make it possible to carve out a professional life.
Intertwining issues of class and race are the core challenges. What’s fair to all. How to slice the economic pie, the ingredients of which have before our very eyes. What does the future look like? Where is the economic growth and how can most people benefit? The tension of wealth and economic scarcity. Urban gentrification in a small town setting. Immigration and Hudson’s commitment as a Sanctuary City. It’s complicated.
How do citizens jostle for influence in a changing population? How does waterfront development ensure that the public good is honored? How does the patchwork of old and new create a vibrant community, deftly knitting together the disparate agendas, histories, and aspirations?
Why Me and Why Now
It comes back to why? Quirky town politics. Entrenched problems. Disparity. Sounds like fun, right? Actually, it sounds like something I’ve got to do.
I’ve grown into myself.
I couldn’t have done this at an earlier age. Personally, it’s the perfect storm. I am more confident of my judgment, passionate about my community, interested in civic involvement. I have the time to devote.
I am less interested in the social implications. Disagreement is part of the human condition. Disapproval is not dismissal. I’m pretty secure in my own true north.
I’m part of a political newbie trend.
What I’m doing — the political newbie thing — is not that unusual. Just look at the 2016 Presidential race. We learned that a political experience was not a prerequisite for higher office. So if that could happen, well then, I could happen. The stakes are not quite as high, but the trend filters down to this hyper-local level.
The 2018 elections were characterized by the number of “never befores” entering the political ring. In the runup to the 2018 election, Politico reportedthat there were 158 first-time Democratic candidates for the House. They won impressively, especially women.
And we all know what happened when November rolled around. The “newbies” took the House. The tone of the current Administration both frustrated and motivated a the grassroots movement of political “resistance.” More (and different) people entered politics and diversity ruled. I feel I’ve come to this juncture at the right time and in the right place.
I don’t aspire to higher office, but I do want to make a difference.
This isn’t the start of a latent political career for me. I was asked to consider running and declined. Then I saw a competitor’s campaign material.
It wasn’t that I disagreed; it was that I knew I could do better. That’s why I’m running.
I don’t want to run on “restoring democracy.” I don’t think our democracy is in need of restoration. But the process does need some seasoned judgment.
I am running on listening to draw out a shared vision for Hudson. A steadfast belief that informed decisions based on verifiable data are at the core of good governance. I am good at listening and sifting through the facts from the fiction. I am a reliable and steady voice when the going gets tough, and willing to tackle complex issues. Commitment matters.
When I care, I have to jump in.
It seems to me that there is something very fundamental going on. It is good news for our country and for democracy as a whole. Whether in national races or down to the lowly Common Council, engagement matters.
Martha McKenna, a veteran Democratic strategist, and former leader of EMILY’s List remarked in Politico last September, “..when a nurse or a mom or a young veteran decides to run, their campaign looks and feels different, and in 2018, there’s a lot of power in that.”
My campaign will definitely look and feel different. But I’m doing it because I know it can and will make a difference. Commitment matters.