Why I Ran For Local Office: It's Personal

Participation in local elections has increased significantly in the past two years and, for many, that call to run for local office isn't just fulfilling a civic duty, it's personal.
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The Fold's Arts & Culture Editor, Nora Gomez-Strauss, with her family on the day she and her husband, David Strauss, won their Democratic County Committee seats. 

The Fold's Arts & Culture Editor, Nora Gomez-Strauss, with her family on the day she and her husband, David Strauss, won their Democratic County Committee seats. 

"Let's go for it," my husband and I said to each other as I held our infant daughter. A friend, who lives down the block, had texted saying she was running for a seat in her election district's Democratic County Committee and that we should consider running for the two seats in our own district.

We looked into what the committee did exactly, what the commitment would be, and decided to jump into the political fray. I briefly hesitated, as I was getting ready to go back to work after maternity leave, we were preparing our 4 year old son for Pre-K, and life, in general, was pretty busy. However, the past few years have been a constant reminder that Democracy requires action. After so many discussions explaining current events to our son (on a toddler level), attending rallies, calling representatives, and voicing opinions on social media, it seemed like a good first step.

There are hundreds of seats on the Democratic Committee throughout the boroughs in New York City. The positions are unpaid, each district has two - a Female and Male seat (WNYC has a wonderful piece explaining why), and they meet once every two years. The idea is that elected committee members represent the voice of their neighbors and inform local party leaders on the Democratic platform, choose local judicial candidates as well as nominees in special elections. It's as local as you can get. Unfortunately, many of these often go unfilled, or are filled by folks assigned by local party leaders. It seemed a long as we could get on the ballot for the New York Primary, we would be the ones filling those these seats.

To get on the ballot, there was some paperwork to be filled out, but, more pressing, was the need to petition. We had to get the signatures of at least 5% registered Democrats in our district within a certain period of time. We needed, roughly, the signatures of around 60 people. Needless to say, we met A LOT of our neighbors. I can't count how many times we said "Are you a registered Democrat?". 

In addition to meeting neighbors, we found out more about the people who lived around us; people we had seen in the laundry room but never exchanged more than a sentence with; people regretting their party affiliation, and many who were frustrated by our social and political climate. For the most part, people were excited that we were running, and that we were running on a joint ticket. We carried our petition everywhere we went; dropping our son off at camp, running to the convenience store - every time we left the apartment was a chance to get supporters. And I couldn't believe that we were able to get so many.

After you hand in your materials, you wait to see if everything was completed correctly. You have one chance to make these corrections or you do not make it on to the ballot. We ended up receiving a letter letting us know there were some errors. Thankfully, they were easy enough to fix. As I sat in the car with the baby while my husband dropped off our materials, I was kind of in disbelief. How did we get here? Getting through the bureaucracy of just trying to get on the ballot was something to be proud of, I told myself. Then came the waiting game. Shortly after, we received word we would be on the ballot. Victory! That feeling was short lived when we also realized that we were actually running against other people. We would have to campaign (even more) for ourselves. 

I had just gone back to work, which was enough of a challenging experience, and I did not know how we were going to do this. Our neighbors began asking if we had made it onto the ballot. It was heartwarming to feel like they were invested, as well. Some would even ask, "So, what's our next step? What do we do now?" That, in addition to seeing our son's proud beaming face when we let people know we, in fact, did make it on, gave me a drive to keep pushing. 

For a few nights, after getting home from work and putting the kids to bed, I stayed up and designed a flyer. Of course, we wanted it to serve as a reminder for people to vote for us, but, more so, we wanted to remind people to vote period. Our main message was to get out and vote on Primary Day with the nudge to fill out those County Committee spots. Our official tagline was "National Solutions Begin with Local Elections" and our four-year-old's tag line for us was "Vote Strauss Gomez-Strauss!"

Primary Day quickly came and, the night before, my husband was busy stuffing our flyers under doors so it would be the first thing people saw when they headed out in the morning. As we left our building for work and school that morning our neighbors excitedly told us they'd be voting for us that day. For the most part, I wasn't feeling too hopeful. Did the other candidates reach out to more people? Would some of the neighbors we had spoken to vote for them instead? At the same time though, I came to the realization that I would be voting for myself. We had gotten so caught up in petitioning and flyers that I failed to realize what a surreal moment that might be.

At the end of the work day, I ran home to meet my husband and kids so we could all go vote together. Our son had been very attuned to the whole process and was possibly more excited than we were. As we left he turned to me and said, "Mama, whoever voted for Obama would vote for you." My heart nearly exploded. He then turned to my husband and said, "Daddy, you look like a president." (He was referring to Ulysses Grant, who my husband does resemble.) It was at that very moment I knew why we were running. It was personal. We were running for our children. We read them stories about change makers throughout history, we tell them about people, today, who dedicate their lives to make a difference, but we also want them to know that we all need to work to make our country, and world, a better place. This is no time to stand on the sidelines and wait for someone to save us, we need to save ourselves. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to vote for myself as I held my baby girl with my son by my side. It almost didn't matter if we won. As we left the polling station, we quickly asked someone to take our picture. The moment was captured as friends walked by saying "We're here to vote for you!"

We watched the results come in for the big tickets decided that day and saw a text come in from our friend down the block, "I won!" We were so excited for her and so very nervous for ourselves. We had not originally signed up to see the votes counted (something you can do as a candidate), but anticipation got the best of us. My husband quickly filled out the paperwork to be a poll watcher and went out while I stayed with our sleeping kids. With sweaty palms, I kept checking my phone. Nothing. "We probably lost or maybe he won and I lost. He doesn't want to tell me in a text," I thought to myself. The door opened and with complete disbelief my husband said, "We did it." We had both won. There were hugs, calls to parents, a couple of celebratory beers, and endless refreshes on the Board of Elections webpage showing the results. Most of all, I couldn't wait to tell our son the next morning. 

And in the spirit of electing officials, here are a few ways to be an informed voter tomorrow in the 2018 midterm elections: 

Read here for a breakdown of the key down-ballot races and what’s at stake for each position.

Enter your address here for a sneak peek of your ballot to review who and what your vote supports.  

This website offers direct information on each candidate in your district that you will be voting on. 

Check here for everything you will need, and need to know, to vote in your state. 

Know your rights, especially when it comes to exercising your right to vote. Here is election protection information you should know.

How to help: Sign up to be a carpool driver to bring people to the polls that wouldn't otherwise be able to. 

And a final reminder from Oprah on the importance of voting: "Every single one of us — every single one of us — has the same power at the polls, and every single one of us has something that, if done in numbers too big to tamper with — cannot be suppressed and cannot be denied."

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