Notes from a failed Municipal campaign

I'm still licking my wounds after a second failed attempt to win a seat on our Town's Board of Aldermen, so it might have been wiser to wait until some of the bitterness fades to talk about it. But if I were one of those "wise course" people, I probably would have won. And therein lies the crux of the problem: Honesty and a genuine desire to inform the voting public might sound like a winning approach, but the average voter uses reductive reasoning in choosing candidates. They're often not looking for reasons "why" to vote for you. they're looking for reasons "why not" to choose your name on the ballot. Follow me below the fold, if you can stomach it:

In every local election there are hot-button issues that tend to drive up the "outrage" meter, and our Town is no different. The most contentious one for us this year was the staffing for our police department. We have approaching 8,000 citizens, but have only been able to field two patrol cars at any given time, day or night. The department has other personnel who do administrative and investigatory work, but we desperately need (at a minimum) one more patrol unit per shift. That comes to four officers + equipment + a patrol vehicle. Both the Chief and two of the other challengers I ran against want 8-10 new officers and vehicles, a monstrous increase in the budget. But they also think they can (magically) squeeze that massive increase out of other departments & expenditures, without raising taxes. This is simply not possible, and I'm pretty sure they are well aware of that fact.

So now comes the newspaper candidate questionnaire, with the, "Would you be willing to raise taxes for x, y or z." I was the only candidate out of six (for three seats) who said "Yes" for adding to the police department. And that is for only the four officers I mentioned above. Understand, we might be able to add those four without a tax increase, depending on our revenue numbers. But knowing that an increase may be necessary, I could not, in all honesty, say I wouldn't vote for it.

And that likely sealed my fate the day it was published. A lot of people like to say elected officials don't want to embrace change, they like the "status quo," etc. But I'm beginning to believe that comes more from the voting majority than the elected officials themselves. Fortune does not always favor the bold, especially in a relatively small bedroom community.

Which brings me to probably the second nail in my political coffin, my desire to avoid pleasant generalities and have an honest discussion about sensitive issues. As Planning Board Chairman, I have encountered some fairly vicious NIMBY folks, who come from across the political spectrum. Right, Left, up, down, NIMBYism crosses all lines to make itself heard (and felt). We had four well-attended candidate forums (three of them live-streamed, no less), and I asked the hosts to bring up affordable housing, so we could hash that out. The question was never asked, so Sunday (two days before the election) I posted this in an election-oriented Facebook group with 450 or so members:

Since we never got around to discussing affordable housing in any of our forums, let's take a few minutes and do it now. It's a touchy subject, and I might lose some votes by bringing this up now. But you deserve to know how I feel about this, and how I may vote if elected.

I've heard from many citizens how they want to encourage younger people to move into our community. I want this as well. But in order for that to happen, we need an economically diverse housing situation. When I left the Army, I was 29 years old. I rented an apartment for a few years before buying a house. But I would not have been able to buy that house if I didn't have a VA loan option. I didn't have $10,000 to use as a down-payment, and it would have taken me ten years to scrape that up. I won't say I was "lucky," because I earned that benefit. But most 29 year-olds don't have that option. My college was also (partially) paid by the Army, so I didn't have a monster student loan debt hanging around my neck.

What's my point? Most of those young families we want to move here to Gibsonville simply can't afford it. We have some very nice neighborhoods, but unless you can afford to throw $20,000 down and pay $1,000+ monthly mortgage, that neighborhood is out of reach.

So, if we want those young folks to move here, we have to provide alternatives. Apartments or duplexes they can rent, moderately priced townhomes, single-family homes that are $150,000 or below, etc.

Many reading this will be appalled by that suggestion. But try to remember your 25 year-old self. Try to remember how hard it was to find an affordable place to live. How everything seemed to be out of your reach. Were you a bad person, that people should fear to live near? Probably not, but they did. Economic prejudice is something that simply shouldn't exist, because (almost) all of us have been there, at one time or another.

There were more comments on that post than any other recent posts, and they were mixed. Several supported the idea, and several were adamantly opposed. Some of the comments were laced with prejudice and innuendo, and efforts to reason with those particular folks fell on deaf ears. People who used to be poor seemed in love with their own achievements, and completely unwilling to make the connection I mentioned in the last paragraph.

It's entirely possible that I am not cut out for politics, as far as running for office, anyway. If I see misinformation being peddled, either by intent or ignorance, I have to try to correct it. I refuse to put any effort into solving problems that don't exist, or ignoring the problems that do exist. And the fact that such an outlook is not popular, nor rewarded with anything more than platitudes, is incredibly depressing.



Sorry for the darkness and fatalism...

Normally I try to suppress those tendencies, especially when I fail to achieve something I want. I hate it when people blame other things (and people) for their travails. But (believe it or not) I am human, and prone to irrationality. From time to time. ;)

Thanks for the backstory

I ran into the same kinds of prejudices here in Chapel Hill many years ago. There's not a lot of room for honest discussion, in my opinion, and looking good always seems to be the winning formula. Having nuanced perspectives is the opposite of looking good.

Sorry things turned out the way they did. Gibsonville's loss, BlueNC's gain.