Tips For The Serious Candidate
Any close friend of mine would probably describe me as a go-with-the-flow kind of gal. I play well with others, don’t much care where we eat or what movies we see. Yet, there are still a few things I simply cannot abide, and will not do. Take political discourse, for example. I enjoy discussing politics about as much as – oh, I don’t know – falling out of a moving car...which I have actually done (it’s even less fun than it sounds).
Whenever an election year rolls around, I have to put on a Hazmat suit before I look at my social media feeds. The venomous spitting and mudslinging that goes on among “friends” turns Facebook and Twitter into “anti-social” media at it’s nastiest.
At the gym, I’ve already threatened my workout buddies that, if they don’t put the political arguments on ice, I might have to start drinking every morning. If you see me on the elliptical with olives floating in my “water,” you’ll know that I’ve reached my threshold.
My distain for politics is especially ironic considering I once ran for public office which, to be perfectly honest, wasn’t even my own idea. [Disclaimer: Not all politicians are perfectly honest, but you can trust me]. Without my knowledge, there was a group of politically active citizens in my town who had been vetting me - some were friends of mine, some I didn’t know. Meeting with their approval, I was approached to be their candidate in an upcoming town board election.
How I came to be on their radar is not an interesting story. Suffice it to say that, back in those days, I agreed to nearly every volunteer request and sat on a number of boards and committees.
In any event, since they asked me and believed in me, I felt it was my civic duty to accept. There were other reasons, too, but none so compelling as my inability to decline a call for help. (Please refer back to the previous “volunteerism” statement).
My story does not have a happy ending (or perhaps it does, depending on your perspective) because I lost the election. I did, however, gain a wealth of knowledge that I’d like to share with anyone willing to throw his or her hat into the ring.
So, without further ado, I’ve put together this handy-dandy campaign management primer called “Tips For The Serious Candidate.”
Lesson #1: Clean Up Your Act
The day before I publicly announced my candidacy, I completely sanitized my social media by deleting anything that could be twisted, misconstrued, exploited or spun negatively in any way.
Depending on one’s lifestyle, potential embarrassments are easy to spot. For example, if you have a habit of posting underwear selfies, or worse yet, tweeting photos of your “equipment,” you should know these will reflect badly upon you (regardless of how magnificent a specimen you believe yourself to be). If you post offending remarks about the opposite sex, your next-door neighbors, fat people, skinny people, religious groups, children, animals, the elderly, trees…you should probably delete those, too. Most rants, no matter how well intended, should probably go bye-bye as well.
This should all seem fairly obvious. However, as we’ve learned throughout history, some candidates are either too egotistical, or too dim-witted to know what’s considered inappropriate. Mainstreaming oneself is the name of the game. You want to appeal to the masses. If you think that’s manipulative or disingenuous, you would be right. But if you plan on running for office, you’ll to have to get over it. Those votes aren’t going to cast themselves, honey.
My social media was all very tame. It wasn’t so easy to see things that might be interpreted as transgressions or cause embarrassment to me, should they be made public. I had to pour over everything with fresh eyes, looking for possible landmines. There were some things that stood out more than others, like a photo of me enjoying a 2-liter mug of beer at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus (which, incidentally is where Hitler was rumored to do his best thinking). Delete. There were some photos of me in swimwear. Delete. Cleavage? Delete. How about those jokes or witticisms that one wouldn’t understand unless they knew me personally? Delete.
Most of this stuff was on Facebook and could only be seen by friends, right? Wrong. When you run for office, somehow everything has a way of becoming public and you can’t be sure whom to trust, even among your friends. Which brings us to…
Lesson 2: Trust No One
I learned this lesson the hard way. There was a reporter who befriended me very early in my campaign. Let’s call her Beyotchne. Beyotchne would call to chit-chat. She’d show up at events and make small talk. It was all very innocent, I thought, and she seemed very supportive in a “we women have to stick together” kind of way. Girl power!
I had no idea that all those innocuous conversations were actually interviews. It didn’t take long to see that Beyotchne was not a stickler for fair and balanced reporting. Rather, her agenda was to make me look like a moron. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example: Beyotchne asked me how I planned to spend Election Day. While going over my full schedule, I also lamented that my children had dentist appointments, which could not be rescheduled. When Beyotchne ran the article, it outlined all the candidates’ Election Day programs: setting up phone banks to call constituents, visiting the senior center to schedule transportation for people who needed rides to the poles, canvassing neighborhoods for last minute votes…the lists went on and on. Then it said, “Anita Rotondi Rosner will be taking her kids to the dentist.”
Lesson #3: Go Through Your Closet
For the serious female candidate, political apparel is challenging. When a man is stumping, all he needs are a few conservative suits and a comfortable pair of walking shoes. If he wants to look casual, such as when he’s munching on a hot dog at the county fair, all he needs is a polo shirt and a pair of chinos. When he wants to look like a hard-working common man, he simply removes his suit jacket and rolls up his shirtsleeves. Women can’t get away with that.
Before I hit the campaign trail, my niece, Lina, and I went through my closet. I enjoy being comfortable, and only dress up for formal occasions. The result: a wardrobe of peasant skirts, sundresses, jeans, tank tops, T-shirts, flip-flops and ball gowns. None of these were practical for my purposes. So we went shopping.
After trolling rack upon rack of professional attire, and several trips to the dressing room, it became abundantly clear that, unlike the Geraldine Ferraros and Sarah Palins of the world, I cannot rock a suit. We tried every cut and style imaginable. If the suit had a boxy silhouette, it devoured me. If it was form fitting, I looked like a naughty flight attendant. I’m just not built for business, if you know what I mean.
Lina and I finally managed to put together a collection of skirts, blouses and conservative dresses (all of which I hated). And what about the shoes? Darlings, you can’t wear flats with a suit or a dress, so it’s all about the pumps. Have you ever canvassed a neighborhood or marched in a Columbus Day parade wearing high heels? No? Trust me, you wouldn’t like it.
One more note about going through your closet: if, while you’re rummaging around back there, you come across your old KKK uniform, or an illegitimate second family that your current family knows nothing about, please rescind your candidacy immediately. America will thank you.
Lesson #4 – Work With What You’ve Got
My town is predominately Irish and Italian. My co-candidate, John, and I were running against two men. One Irishman. One Paisan. My maiden name is Italian. I married a nice Jewish boy. John (also Italian) insisted I use both my maiden name and my married name during our run, hoping to attract Italian constituents. It’s hard to fit “Elect John Filiberti and Anita Rotondi Rosner for Town Board” on anything smaller than a zeppelin, but we managed to squeeze it onto our campaign materials. In the end, I swept one part of town, the one with the largest Jewish population. Lesson learned, although by whom and for what, remains unclear.
Lesson #5: Rules Are For Suckers
Our fifth and final lesson revolves around the most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life. The League of Women Voters traditionally organizes televised debates every campaign season. My team totally downplayed the event in an attempt to keep me relaxed. They were unsuccessful.
I’d seen debates on television. That was the extent of my preparation. Naively, I believed it would be better not to appear too practiced. I simply wanted to answer questions with truth and authenticity – this was my first mistake. I should have rehearsed sound bites and delivered them with the off-the-cuff aplomb of a skilled Oscar winner.
Upon entering the debate venue, we four candidates were seated on the stage. Our opponents surrounded themselves with canyons of three-by-five cards, arranged in piles. John opened up several file folders and fanned them out in front of him. Me? I brought along a piece of paper and a pencil, just in case I wanted to jot down some notes. Remember that Sesame Street tune “One Of These Things”? Yup, I was the one thing not like the others. Not only was I the only woman on the panel, I was categorically out-papered. So, listen up…even if you don’t need notes and have a memory like a steel trap, bring tons of documents to look serious, official and intimidating. Voters love that.
At the start of the debate, the representative from The League Of Women Voters went over the rules: We would have two minutes to answer each questions. During those two minutes, we were to answer the question asked and only that question. We were not to use the time for any other purpose. There were additional rules, but I can’t tell you what they were, because after I heard “two minutes,” my brain went out the window.
Each time a question was directed at me, my eyes darted to the timekeeper (making me look shifty). Then my response would tumble out, riding on the stream of a single breath. I’d complete my answer with seconds to spare. Only then would I inhale and relax my butt muscles. Unlike other candidates, I did not use my time to clarify something I said earlier or to rebut someone else’s remarks. Nor did I ignore the question entirely to barf out my own agenda. I left the debate grumbling that my parents, who taught me to play fair, had failed me by doing so.
In the end, there is comfort in knowing I fought a clean fight. My campaign was honest and civil. I told no lies, threw no punches. I wanted to make things better. I learned what’s important to people and took their concerns to heart. I had the full love, respect and support of my family and friends. I tried. I did my best. And while I may not have prevailed, I gained more than I lost.