I’ve done a lot of drugs in my life, but I’ve rarely been as high as I was on Election Night in late March 2007.
I had volunteered for a campaign on a whim, and I wound up my masterminding an impossible upset of a popular politician who was the odds on favorite at the beginning of the race. I got a little help from the Star, of course, but they can’t take credit for it, so the victory was mine as much as any other’s.
So when the results came in and we learned that we’d won by the narrowest of margins, I felt a rush beyond compare.
And that moment is preserved forever in a photograph that ran on the front page of the paper the next day, with the new mayor elect smiling and me standing right behind him, my fist thrust in the air and my face stretched out in a full-throated holler.
I was riding on clouds for several weeks, with longtime political heavy hitters like James Nutter, Steve Glorioso and Terry Riley telling me my work was “masterful,” “a hell of a campaign,” and “the best I’ve ever seen.
It’s pretty funny now, looking back on it, now that the whole story’s been told.
Still, I clung for a long time to the belief that I might have a place in the corridors of power. But those beliefs were smashed by the last campaign I worked on, the push to build a light rail line from Brookside to Downtown.
At first, the Mayor’s Office had been excluded from the campaign. The people on the campaign committee didn’t say no one from the office could attend the meetings; they just didn’t tell us about them.
When we found out was going on, Funk ordered me to crash the meetings and work on the campaign full time. And when I showed up, most of the campaign workers acted like I was a welcome addition.
I was pretty full of myself when I started going to those first meetings. Funk and Gloria had both been pumping up my ego, saying I was a genius of 21st Century campaigning, and that none of the people who had been running the campaign knew how to run a modern bid for election.
Their theory was that this campaign would be won by appealing to young voters. It was a November election, same day that people would be voting for a new president, and the whole city and country was caught up in Obama-mania. We figured that if we could just do some publicity stunts and get the issue on the evening news, all those people who would come out to the polls to vote for Barack would also pull the lever for a state-of-the-art transportation system.
But my considerable skills as a campaign mastermind were soon put to the test when Gloria insisted that we do a publicity stunt everyday for two or three weeks leading up to the election
I knew this was a bad idea. The press would tire of our antics, and likely turn against us, thus having the opposite effect.
But my skills as a lackey were sharper than my political skills, and I acquiesced to their stupid plan, and it went down exactly as I predicted – especially after we brought in the cow.
Somewhere along the way, I got this idea of staging a fake protest with a bunch of actors playing rubes who had organized themselves as a group called Citizens Against Workable Solutions, or COWS. The plan was to have them crash one of the Mayor’s press conferences with a cow in tow. (It was also a nod to the old Cowtown theme, get it?)
I spent the better part of a week trying to find a cow – all on the city payroll, mind you. Another campaign worker, Phil Scaglia, who work for many years for Emanual Cleaver, came through at the last minute by finding one that could be delivered for a mere $100. (It was a steer, actually.)
As you might imagine, the stunt didn’t go over to well with the press. A couple of reporters from Tom Bogdon’s online venture started crying “fraud,” and Mike Mahoney was so insulted by it he somehow arranged it so Channel 9, the most popular news station in town, wouldn’t come to anymore of our publicity events.
Which all goes a long way to proving my political ineptitude, but not as emphatically as the fact that everyone else on the campaign knew the light rail measure was going to fail, and they collectively decided not to tell me.
Jeff Roe had conducted a poll that showed the plan was going to go down in flames, with an overwhelming margin of respondents saying they were planning to vote it down.
But instead of letting the Mayor’s Office in on this little secret, they let us continue making fools of ourselves with our full-court press.
Not that it mattered to me anyway. During the last week of the campaign, I had decided I was going to quit.
Looking back, it’s clear that I wasn’t made for politics, and I could probably go on and on making fun of myself. But on the other hand, I had cavalierly joined a campaign and managed to play a big role in pulling off an unlikely win.
I don’t know a lot of people who’ve naively jumped into something that’s huge and way out of their league and still managed to come out on top.
A lot of people fantasize about accomplishing something like that.
But I fucking did it.
And that’s something no one can ever take away from me.