Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

The word “sign” represents the last few weeks of campaigning pretty well, both as a verb–a total of 122 people provided their signature and address on my nomination papers, giving me a spot on the ballot–and as a noun, with a few dozen lawn signs with my name on them now appearing in New Bedford front yards. Other highlights include attending my first meet-and-greet (thanks for hosting, Kristin Raffa Cahill!) and meeting parade-goers at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament.

Jeremy assembles the new signs, with supervision from Nick

Lawn signs

My lesson on lawn signs is much like what I learned with my first campaign purchase of buttons. I was skeptical about the buttons: who was going to wear them, and what effect would they have? It turns out that plenty of people have been sporting them around town (thank you!), and they tell me what I’ve experienced myself: they’re a great way to talk up my candidacy without being too in-your-face, and they make for a great conversation starter. They appear to be a decent teether for the toddler set, too, given Nick’s interest in biting them. Lawn signs have followed the same pattern (except that we don’t let Nick bite them). I was a bit concerned, particularly after seeing some prices, about whether they were worth the investment of others’ contributed cash. And they’re not cheap: after quite a bit of calling around locally and getting quotes online, the best price I could find was $5/sign (at Express Printing in Fall River), and that doesn’t even include the metal stands ($0.80). As I waited for my order to print, I was pleased to read that there is actually evidence that, in a “low-information” election (like School Committee, since it doesn’t exactly receive top billing), signs can make a positive difference. Phew!

Thankfully, by the time my signs had arrived, I already had a good starter list of addresses to house them. We fit in sign deliveries over the past week or so, and as I learned from my grandmother this weekend, they’re working! Indeed, she got a call from a friend the other morning who wanted to know who Colleen Dawicki was, because she saw my sign on Brownell Avenue. My grandmother subsequently put us in touch, and not only did we have a long chat about a whole range of New Bedford issues, but she offered to host a sign in turn!

Of course, good sign real estate isn’t everything (but if you have a high-traffic lead, I’d love it), and there’s a reason “signs don’t vote” is an expression in the political world. While I won’t get too excited about hearing from friends about sign-sightings, it is providing some nice wind in the sails!

On the ballot!

The other “signs” I’ve been concerned with relate to my efforts to get on the ballot. The lift wasn’t heavy: just 50 registered voters needed to sign their names and write their addresses sufficiently legibly to be validated by the Election Commission. Nevertheless, this being my first rodeo, I decided to follow the advice of collecting far more signatures than required. My strategies for signature-collecting included asking folks at my campaign kickoff, collecting them along parade routes (both the Cape Verdean and Portuguese Feast parades), asking for them while door-knocking, and grabbing the errant one or two in my travels around the city. All in all, I ended up with 122 (though a Dartmouth-dwelling friend and a parade-goer’s child were included), of which the Election Commission certified 67. My understanding is they stop when they have a sufficient number above 50, and they didn’t even look at the third of three pages I submitted (but hung onto it in case there was an issue). Even though I went far beyond the number required, I’d probably do the same push again. After all, it gives voters something to do while they hear my spiel!


I’ve heard from many candidates past and present that “meet-and-greets,” or coffee hours, are great ways to reach voters. This involves having a supporter host their friends and neighbors for a social gathering that gives the candidate a chance to share more about their background and ideas while learning about the concerns and ideas of a set of voters. As I learned during my first one of these, it’s a pretty high-impact opportunity: the kinds of people who are interested in attending such events are likely to be deeply engaged in their city and therefore have important perspectives from which I can learn. In the case of my first such event, a number of those perspectives included parents and teachers, which I continue to seek out in order to shape my approach to the campaign, and hopefully, to my service on the School Committee. I’m hoping to do a few more of these this fall (and have one lined up already), so let me know if you’re interested in hosting!

The latest stats:

Time spent: averaging 6-8 hours/week

Amount spent since last post: $531.25 for 100 signs (I saved money by getting hand-me-down wire stands!), $136.51 for brochure printing (to use when door-knocking and at events)

Amount raised since last post: $100 (the contributions have slowed…probably time to pester my Treasurer about this!)

The fruits of your donations! (Well, except for the wagon.)

Opportunity knocks

Nick helps Colleen review the voter list while waiting for someone to answer the door.

The highlight of this past week was trying my hand–literally!–at something new, essential, and frankly a bit intimidating. On Sunday night, Jeremy and I packed Nick into the stroller for our first attempt to knock on strangers’ doors for the purpose of introducing myself and asking them to vote for me for School Committee, all in as little time as possible without interrupting their dinner. Easy, right?

Getting to this point took a good bit of preparation. First, I needed something to give folks, and I don’t yet have what the campaign world calls “palm cards” (basically, snazzy postcards) or “door hangers” to leave behind. Thanks to a few helpful editor-types, I managed to put together a one-pager that I printed at Staples over the weekend to fill this gap.

Second, I needed to know where to go. Thanks to the great folks at the Coalition for Social Justice, I got my hands on a set of voter lists that show me the names and addresses of every New Bedford voter who has voted in at least two of the last three municipal elections, which ensures that I don’t spend precious time ringing the doorbells of folks who won’t be at the polls on October 3 and/or November 7. These lists are set up so I can track where I knocked, if anyone was home, whether I think they’ll vote for me (1 is definitely, 5 is forget it), whether they want a lawn sign, or if they don’t speak English.

The surprising thing about these lists is how few people are on them. Would you believe that in a city of about 38,000 households (according to the 2010 census), just 7,800 households are on that list? Instead of literally going door-to-door, my canvassing effort will involve lots more skipping around than anticipated.

So last night, we put two CSJ-generated voter lists for our neighborhood on one clipboard and a nomination form on another, grabbed a stack of flyers, donned our buttons, filled some water bottles, buckled Nick in with a toy and a book, and set off down the street. I rang the first doorbell, and….nothing. Since this house was in our immediate neighborhood, we decided we’d come back later. Onto the house next door, and…nothing. The same thing happened at the next nine houses. Oof! This was a Sunday at about 5pm, a day and time recommended by more than a few people (plus the internet), but it was also the first truly gorgeous day in a while.

We finally had a response at door number 10, and while the occupants quickly agreed to sign my nomination papers, I didn’t really get the chance to do my spiel. Luckily, three voters were sitting on the porch of the next house, representing two houses on the block. They were happy to chat, quickly asking what my qualifications were, and when it seemed those passed muster, sharing lots of observations and insights for more than a few minutes. One had heard my name already through a neighbor, and another said I could put her down as a volunteer. Awesome!

I was riding pretty high after this, but the same didn’t go for Nick, whose mood began a slow and steady decline as we approached bedtime. We managed one more response–one that yielded a “1” and a spot for a lawn sign–before Nick reached his breaking point.

All told, we lasted just over an hour, knocked on 20 doors, gathered 5 signatures on my nomination papers, and came away with one lawn sign spot and one volunteer. The folks at CSJ suggested a rate of 25 doors/hour is about average, so while we were a bit behind that, I’d say it was a decent result for our first attempt.

Next time, one thing we’ll do differently include pre-writing notes on the flyers we’ll leave behind (“sorry we missed you!”), since scrawling those notes–and then spending a while trying to find a place to stick the flyers, since putting them in mailboxes is prohibited–took up a bit of time. We may also try out a weeknight this week, and/or a morning shift over the coming weekend. One thing is for sure: though the low level of voter participation is disheartening, reaching even 7,800 households will take approximately 312 hours, and that’s more than enough for me!

This week’s stats:

Time spent: 6 hours (prepping my flyer/talking points, learning the ropes from Dan & Marlene of CSJ, and door-knocking)

Amount spent: $25 (printing flyers at Staples)

Amount raised: $195 (I’m up to a total of $1,742)

Events attended: 1 (opening of art exhibit at Haskell Public Gardens, where I even told a story!)

New people I’ve met: 4 (while canvassing!)

One month later

I launched my New Bedford School Committee campaign just over one month ago, deciding to make my candidacy known early so I could start getting my name out there, spread the workload across more weeks, begin fundraising, and–truth be told–make it impossible to change my mind about doing this. The final reason has definitely proven a good one: with an ever-short summer upon us, I’ve found myself having second thoughts more than once, including tonight, as I penned thank-you notes to campaign donors on the car ride to Maine (my husband and I are celebrating my birthday kid-free, thanks to my fabulous parents!). But those very thank you notes remind me that I’m not going it alone: a few dozen friends, family, and neighbors joined me to kick off the campaign last week, and nearly every person–even some who I just met that night–signed up to volunteer. Many signed up to plant a sign in their lawn, and even more made a financial contribution to the campaign. To say their enthusiasm and support was appreciated is an understatement. And since many of them are readers of this blog, thank you!

Addressing the crowd at my kickoff event. Photo by Steven Froias.

Another highlight of my last two weeks as a candidate was taking to the streets and beginning to introduce myself to strangers. This was much less daunting than I had imagined it would be, though perhaps I have my mascot–my one-year-old, Nick, whose favorite thing is waving and saying “hi” to people. Buoyed by the success of the kickoff, Nick, my husband Jeremy, and I donned our buttons and walked along the route of the Cape Verdean Recognition Day Parade about an hour before it started to gather signatures for my nomination papers. We collected over 30 signatures before the parade arrived, and one conversation resulted in another future home of a lawn sign. We even met a distant cousin of mine. Who knew?

So what’s on my ever-growing to-do list, and therefore what are tasks I’m making myself publicly accountable for completing in the next few weeks? First, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my platform points to publish on this website and begin sharing on Facebook. The only challenge here is that I keep wanting to add more to the list, because there are so many issues within education that get me fired up. Next, I’ll be condensing those points and my qualifications to fit onto a printed handout I can use when I start door-knocking, which I’d like to start doing in my neighborhood in the near future. The business cards have certainly been handy (I gave out a lot during the parade), but now that I have some money in the bank, it would be great to develop something more detailed. Third, I’ll be working with some voter data gurus/campaign supporters to get access to the list of active voters from which I’ll develop my list of doors on which to knock. And all of this is in addition to continuing to have one-on-one conversations and thinking about how to make use of the many skilled folks who have committed to volunteering. Whew! I suppose the key to a successful campaign while getting the most out of summer means figuring out what I can do from the beach, the kayak, the deck, or the car rides home from vacation destinations. 🙂

This week’s stats (for weeks 3 + 4)

Time spent: ~12 hours (organized/hosted kickoff, drafted/circulated platform, email correspondence, thank-you note writing, financial reconciliation)

Amount spent: $0 (I’m not counting what I spent for the kickoff, since it was just for friends/family)

Amount raised: $1,175! Even though my treasurer did no soliciting, many people made contributions at the kickoff. More than expected, and much appreciated!

Events attended: 2 (kickoff and Cape Verdean Parade)

New people I’ve met: At least 4-6

Week 2: a family affair

If this week of my New Bedford School Committee campaign had a theme, it would be family. This week featured Father’s Day and Nick’s first birthday (?!?), for one. The other big event of my week was a two-part training for local women running for office, presented by the Women’s Fund of Southeastern MA and Leadership SouthCoast. The training featured area women who have run for (and in some cases, hold) elected office, and each one emphasized the importance of one’s family in a campaign. According to their collective experience, family members can be more than boots on the ground; they can serve as check writers, coaches who can offer critical feedback (for better or worse), and most importantly, cheerleaders when the going gets tough.

Colleen, Nick, and Jeremy celebrate the one-year mark.

Hearing local officeholders emphasize this point was a great reminder that the role family will play in my campaign can’t be taken for granted. That goes for Jeremy in particular, who holds the title of campaign treasurer–a necessity because sitting on two appointed (and effectively unpaid) city boards qualifies me as a “public employee” who cannot directly solicit or handle contributions. But over the next months, he’ll do much more than process and track funds: he’ll join me in door-knocking, hosting events, shaking hands at events, listening to me practice my spiel, proof-reading blog posts like this, and reminding me to stop writing posts like this and go to bed. And he’s likely to do more than his fair share of parenting, whether that means picking up Nick after daycare (which he mostly does anyway) so I can fit in a post-work campaign meeting or doing the dinner/bath/bedtime routine alone so I can attend an event.

Last week, I was telling my neighbor about some surprising feedback I’ve gotten from a few people I told about my plans to run leading up to the announcement. On at least three occasions, it was suggested I wait, because it would be too hard to balance campaigning with motherhood. Hearing this kind of thing in 2017 was a bit jarring, not to mention discouraging (and perhaps the topic of a future blog post). But my neighbor was spot-on in her reply: “Have they met Jeremy?!” Hear, hear.

In other news, keep an eye out for my buttons, which will be appearing on lapels and bags around town thanks to the quick turnaround of Glenn and Carol Grimes. Also coming soon are business cards with my logo, contact info, and links to my website and Facebook page. I’ll be working on something postcard-sized next, but this seemed like an inexpensive way to fill the need for information I can put in someone’s hand. After all, any day now, I’ll find the gumption to try my hand at door-knocking!

This week’s stats:

Time spent: 10-11 hours (attended a fundraiser, designed/ordered business cards, three meetings, email correspondence, Women’s Fund/LSC 6-hour training)

Amount spent: $138 ($106 for buttons, and $32 for business cards)

Amount raised: $0. Time for my treasurer to start asking! 🙂

Events attended: 1 (fundraiser for City Councilor Ian Abreu)

New people I’ve met: too many to count this week! Probably 8-10 is a good estimate.

My first week as a candidate

Last Friday morning, I sat anxiously at my laptop as I orchestrated the trio of tasks that would launch my campaign for New Bedford School Committee in a matter of minutes: 1) hit ‘publish’ on my new website, 2) make my new Facebook page public, and 3) hit ‘send’ on the email I had drafted to friends and family making it official. After spending a frantic minute testing the links to make sure they worked–they did!–I returned to my inbox, expecting bounce-backs and out-of-office messages. Those were there, but amazingly, just minutes after making my announcement, so were replies of congratulations. And within a few more minutes, offers of support began showing up, including from elected officials in the city whose advice will be so beneficial. The Facebook page came to life as friends and family shared it far and wide. By the time I returned to my paid work at noon (I took the morning off for this), I had even recorded my first online donation. Talk about getting some wind in my sails!

Throwing my hat in the ring on the early side has been great not only for building a community of supporters, but also for helping me realize what I need when it comes to nuts and bolts. The next day, I took Nick to PRIDE Fest at Buttonwood Park, and as we circulated with friends, I realized I was ill-prepared to “campaign.” I finally understood where buttons can come in handy, since one would give me a conversation-opener. And those who I did start conversations with might have put a postcard on their fridge if I had some to hand out.

So this week (and weekend) are focused on “marketing collateral” (brochures, door-hangers, and other materials I can hand out). I’ve been playing with designs and layouts on Vistaprint as a ride the bus into Boston for work, and hope to have something handout-able within the next week or so. And last night, I made the rite-of-passage visit to Carol and Glenn Grimes, the famous button-makers of New Bedford. This came after a long work day, and even though all I wanted to do was go home and think nothing about campaigning, it was one of the most energizing activities of my week. After making buttons for political candidates in New Bedford and beyond for decades, they’ve got some great insights on running for office here that they were happy to share. For instance, spaghetti supper fundraisers used to be all the rage in New Bedford, but they’ve fallen out of fashion. Wonder if we should try one out as a nod to the old school?

This is my first of what I hope will be many update posts, since one of my goals is to share my process and lessons over the course of the campaign for those who are thinking about running themselves or are just curious about what it takes (as well as for future me, so I can look back wistfully at this crazy time).

A collection of area School Committee campaign buttons made by Glenn and Carol Grimes.

This week’s stats:

Time spent: ~7 hours (announcement prep/dissemination, follow-up correspondence, three one-on-one meetings, fixing bugs with donation platform, researching/designing collateral, visiting the button shop)

Amount spent: $35.88 (for website domain/hosting

Amount raised: $505.00 (totally unsolicited!)

Events attended: 2 (PRIDE Fest and early literacy kickoff at Gomes School)

New people I’ve met: 3