There was an article in The Atlantic (link here) about how scientists, concerned over the current federal administration’s stance on science, are thinking about running for office.
This story from The Washington Post talks about the same outfit, the 314 Group, trying to “connect people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math to the expertise and funds needed to run a successful campaign.”
This post has nothing to do with scientists, the current administration, or the digits of pi. The stories mentioned above were simply the hooks to tell you about the two times I ran for office.
This is my story.
In middle school, eighth grade to be exact, I decided to run for class president. I had absolutely no previous experience in any form of student government, but I thought I would give it a whirl. Seriously, how difficult could it be to head an executive department that adults weren’t going to listen to anyway.
So I filed my candidacy papers with the school administration and the first task for me to accomplish was to make up posters urging my fellow citizens to vote for me. Now, I had been a veteran observer of student elections since the third grade and I knew all the tropes – punny rhymes, bright colors, glitter (lots of glitter). However, I was also an astute observer of marketing in general (meaning I had watched a great deal of television commercials in my short life span) and I knew that a quick way to catch the consumer’s…er, voter’s…attention was to do something against the grain.
My bright and innovative idea was to make a poster that was as plain as possible.
My campaign advertising consisted solely of stark white posterboard with small black letters in plain script down in the lower right-hand corner stating, “Feldman for President”.
My idea was so innovative it has never been repeated by anyone else running for office in middle school.
The problem with such a minimalist style of presentation (i.e, lots of white space) was that it presented the other students plenty of blank space to show off their own creativity. I can only assume that all candidates suffer some level of vandalism of their materials, but I was actually asked by the school to take my signs down (and make new ones) because of the…shall we say, “creative and colorful”…comments prospective voters left on my posters.
The final event to take place before voting was the assembly where the candidates would give speeches. In this forum, I decided to stick to a more traditional form of campaigning and my speech was crafted to appeal to the civic-mindedness of the student body, of our collective responsibility to make a school a better place, and, where needed, make the water fountains have more pressure.
I gave this speech with as much seriousness that can be given by a boy whose voice has not broken yet. Polite applause was offered as I made my final pitch for all to vote for me.
Then, the next candidate took the stage and schooled us other office seekers on how it’s done. She was flashy and over the top. She wore a huge hat in the style of Uncle Sam. She told jokes. She even rhymed her concluding statements. It was a tour de force of showmanship and when the final vote tally was announced, the only question was how much would she win by.
With that loss under my belt, I felt I knew the proper path to victory when my freshman year of high school came around I announced my candidacy for ninth grade class representative. My particular high school did not allow election posters so I was pinning my hope for winning on my speech at the candidate’s assembly. Following the path laid out for me by last year’s defeat, I crafted a speech that was humorous, made references to pop culture, included a pair of props, and even had a dance step or two at the end.
Since we had to submit our speeches to the vice-principal of the school for approval, I knew there was no way this stodgy personification of The Man was going to agree to my free-form guerrilla-esque style of presentation. So, I created a dummy speech full of the platitudes and tropes that sunk my candidacy the previous year.
When the day of the assembly arrived and my name was called, I approached the speaker’s lectern. I nervously adjusted the microphone and laid out the sheets of my paper with my “speech”. I introduced myself in halting tones and began to read what the audience thought was my prepared text.
Then I stopped. I looked up. I grabbed the papers, ripped them up, and said…well, to be honest, I wish I could actually remember what I said. All I can recall is that I grabbed the microphone, moved away from and in front of the lectern, and gave – from memory – the speech that I wanted to give. I was funny. I was topical (I do recall a reference to the phone number 867-5309 which was part of a popular song of the day). I was like an infomercial pitchman full of mania and sincerity as to why you – yes! YOU – should vote for me for class representative.
To put it mildly, the crowd went wild and I received the most boisterous applause of any candidate that day.
However, victory continued to elude me.
There were five candidates running for class representative that day and I came in second. Our school, though, had a system where the top two vote-getters would have a runoff election the next week. So my name would be on the ballot again, but this time I would only be up against one other candidate. I was positive that my fellow freshmen would remember my name because, like any good salesperson, I had repeatedly stated my moniker to make it stick in my audience’s mind.
When the day of the runoff arrived, I was stunned and flabbergasted to see that the ballot for freshman class representative did indeed contain only two choices. There was the boy who had come in first the previous week and right under it was the name “Brad Felgar”…which as you might have gathered is not my name.
There had been a mistake in the printing of the ballot. Long before the Butterfly Ballot Botching of the 2000 presidential election, there was the Moniker Mishap of 1982. My name had been replaced with something that kinda/sorta looked like my name, but wasn’t.
It should come as no shock or surprise that I (or, technically, Brad Felgar) lost the election to the boy who had won the first round. I appealed this gross miscarriage of the sanctity of a high school election to the same administrators I had tricked with my speech switcheroo so it should come as no shock and surprise that my appeals fell on deaf ears.
Now, there is no way I can prove this but I did find it highly coincidental that the receiver of the highest tally of votes, and the ultimate winner of this contest, was a member of the football team. It should also not go without notice that the group of students who volunteered to do the printing of the runoff ballots were also members of the football team.
Like I said, I can prove nothing.
With two defeats under my belt, I never ran for office again until much later in life when I became Treasurer of our homeowner’s association (as mentioned in this previous story).
I did learn something from my twin electoral losses.
One) It is the sizzle and not the steak that sways an electorate.
Two) It’s good to know people on the inside.
That’s my story.
P.S. I would remember the name of Brad Felgar and put it to good use in the future, but that’s a story for another day.